She sits adjacent to the dark hallway that leads to a dingy bathroom in a humble middle class ranch home in a small town in Nebraska. With her folding chair positioned just slightly – deliberately – outside the invisible cord that serves to bind this gathering, she’s taken her place among the women from St. Boniface who have formed a tight, informal circle – a circle that includes both friends and acquaintances.
‘The Book of Revelation’ is the theme for tonight’s first meeting of a new 10-week session of Bible study. Her heart is racing. Despite her outward appearances to the contrary, she silently and vehemently curses her decision to ‘step outside her comfort zone’, done so largely as a nod to her daughter-in-law’s incessant urging to involve herself in activities, to get herself out of the house, to ‘enjoy life’, to find her passion. Ever so slightly, she closes her eyes and, inhaling deeply, she shakes her head. Exhaling now, she nervously looks around, hoping that no one has taken note of her discomfort.
The regret she feels about coming here tonight is palpable. She had many opportunities where she could have changed her mind – backing out of the garage, turning onto Bradley Street where tonight’s proceedings are being hosted, maneuvering her car to park, stepping out of the vehicle, navigating the uneven brick walkway leading to the front door and – finally – ringing the cracked, unlit doorbell. Still though, she had continued to put one foot in front of the other and well, now, here she is. Dammit.
Her stomach is twisting and churning. She loathes calling attention to herself and, more than anything, she is afraid that someone will call on her tonight to lead the group in prayer. Or to read a passage. Or to answer a question. She is terrified that someone will ask her to provide her opinion on the topic at hand: What do you think, Betty?
Seriously, why HAD she come here tonight?
She’d been consumed by fears for much of her life, always cautious – usually more so than was ever warranted, always afraid, always apprehensive.
Her reticence about life had, she was beginning to see, robbed her of life.
It wasn’t just the usual stress-inducing situations most people become anxious about: scenarios involving water, questionable judgment and electricity or strangers at the front door at midnight while at home all alone or white-knuckle driving during a brutal Midwestern snowstorm.
No. It was more than that.
She was unable to account for the lack of anything even resembling a spark – let alone a fire! – in her belly relative to a single, solitary facet of her life, save her two sons. Her boys, now grown men, were her Life, her All, her Everything. Tim and David were her pride, her joy, her springtime, her blue skies. She hadn’t considered that perhaps she should have tended to her own needs with the same enthusiasm and devotion, and provided herself with a reserve of sorts, to shelter and nourish her when the time came – which it had, long since past – for them to move on with their lives. And now, she was reluctant to acknowledge, she had little else to show for her seventy-plus years on this earth. Nothing, anyway, to lift the fog of gloom that had wormed its way into every opening, every crevice of her very being. The world before her now was gray and hopeless and tired.
Her husband, a good man, and her sons, both of them loving and attentive, could only do so much to try to fill the void in her life. She knew (but did not want to know) that they felt helpless to alleviate the growing depression that now overwhelmed her. She also knew (but did not want to know) that the lack of joy and purpose in this life of hers was HERS to resolve, to fix, to deal with. Old habits die hard and it was easier to expect others to provide her with what was needed to move forward than to accept the responsibility for making herself happy.
And now she finds herself committed for the next hour or so to sitting here as scripture is discussed. She’s uneasy thinking in terms of actually participating in said discussion so in her mind’s eye she frames these next sixty minutes in a detached manner, as one would in observation of some event rather than in taking part of it. Inwardly she sighs – and trembles.
She knows (but truly wishes not to).