Don’t Know What I Expected

Dearest Rachel –

“Are you… Dave?”

I was to meet a fellow by that name, according to Lisa, and he would direct me and the other volunteers as far as setting up the room for last night’s activity. In fact, she even gave me his contact information, just in case I arrived too early, and the place was locked up. Well, I was there before my scheduled arrival time of 5:30, but there was already someone on the other side of the door. However, as it so happened…

“No, I’m not; you’re here to help set up, right?” I’m sure I shouldn’t have, but at the point he denied being ‘Dave,’ I half-expected him to respond with a Tommy Chong-like drawl of “Dave’s not here, man.” Of course, that bit was funny because the guy knocking on the door was Dave, and since I wasn’t, the joke wouldn’t have had the punchline it did in the original.

George (because that was his name) let me in, and when I commented about the rejoinder I’d expected, he actually recognized it, while at the same time, pointing out that “that kind of dates you”

“Well, it’s not as if anyone else will,” I replied. He gave me some rough directions to get me to the room we were to be meeting in; Waterfall Room number two.

Waterfall Room?

Sure enough, as I made my way down the stairs, I could detect a hint of chlorine in the air; evidently there was a fountain nearby, although I didn’t take the time to scan the surroundings for it. Just as medieval man built his great cathedrals with vaults and arches, lining the walls with stained glass to put the worshiper in a properly reverential frame of mind, so too does even the practical Protestant of today add the occasional fancy flourish to their churches, just to remind us that God’s house is not like one for men to live in.

Then again, one would think that the sheer size would suffice to get that message across. I’d heard that the place had suffered a leadership crisis not too long ago, and was trying to get back on its feet, but the campus was still as enormous as ever. Without George’s guidance, I’m sure I could have easily gotten lost, even in this relatively small section of the place.

There was another gentleman standing around in Waterfall 2 when I found my way there. He, too, was not Dave, but rather Bruce – leading to memories of yet another comedy sketch, this time involving the professors of the philosophy department of the University of Woolamaloo. I’m going to guess that these comic snippets were my mind’s way of putting me at relative ease, lest I lapse into that British accent I assume in an unfamiliar or otherwise situation, which I recall even from college days as being offputting to those who knew better. At least these might be amusing to those familiar with them.

Dave finally appeared, and directed us to our tasks, while he mounted to a booth in the back of the room to do a sound and projection check. After placing stanchions and a collection of pens on each of twelve of the twenty-five tables in the room, my feet, which had already traveled some five or six miles with Lars earlier in the day, insisted that I sit down. I found myself a table near the back of the room, and made myself reasonably comfortable, for the situation.

At first, I’m joined by a trio of women, who greet each other by name. They will turn out to be among the few regulars at the church that I meet – and they won’t be able to stay at this table, as they need to be leaders/facilitators at other tables. However, they stay long enough to get reasonably comfortable; comfortable enough for at least one to describe the diet she has to be on for the next week in preparation for a colonoscopy. The three of them – and I, since mine was barely a year and a half ago – express surprise at the additional requirements for the procedure these days (although internally, I’m surprised at the topic under discussion in front of me; isn’t it guys that tend toward gross-out topics like this?), before gathering their jackets and relocating.

Eventually, I’m joined by two other guys, one with an arm in a sling, due to a dislocated shoulder. He begins talking to me and the other fellow, and I conclude he must be our table’s facilitator. However, it turns out that, while he and the other fellow have attended here previously, unlike myself, it’s been a while since either of them has been here – so for the moment, we’re still on our own.

And indeed, we remain so for quite a while. While I know better than to expect to make any sort of connection on a first time at such a gathering, it’s a little discouraging to see whole tables made up of women while others, like ours, are entirely male. And to be honest, the self-segregation is surprising to me, as well – although I do discover a little more about that over time. But that’s a topic for later.

We do wind up being joined by a couple of women, friends of each other who, from the way they’re interacting, appear to each be moral support for the other in terms of coming here tonight. Yet another one joins us halfway through the meal (of Lou Malnati’s – when they say they’re serving pizza, they don’t mess around), even as the fellow I assumed to be the leader gets a call from his son and has to leave. Suddenly, the dynamics of the table have shifted dramatically.

At this point, several of the organizers of the event come around to ask who the leader is for our table. It appears that we either haven’t been assigned one, or the assigned leader didn’t show up. Guess who gets drafted for the role? Well, someone had to do it, I suppose. As an icebreaker activity, I’m given a pumpkin, various craft supplies, and the name of a character to have the table dress the pumpkin up as, for everyone to go around the room and guess the identity of each pumpkin.

Ours is supposed to be Charlie Chaplin

By the time we’re done, and everyone has had the chance to go around and make their guesses, the other gentleman at our table leaves, and we are joined by another woman. Given my ulterior motive for coming to this event, I should be overjoyed at the ratio; however, I’m too focused on going through the discussion material for after the message to really appreciate the situation.

The message, as it turns out, is on video – and originally geared for Christian leaders as opposed to Christian singles, per se. The speaker talks about the need for connection, especially with a spirit of vulnerability. I think the original context had to do with the fact that leaders can’t always be giving of themselves without bringing in encouragement from others, lest they burn out and dry up. He speaks of a lack of connection as being in a perpetual state of deferred hope, leading to discouragement and depression. I can see why it’s being brought up to address a group of singles.

But even as there’s this emphasis on making connections, their mission statement seems to suggest a goal of strengthening singles to find their own niche within the church, as opposed to, say, finding a means to escape their state as singles – which, admittedly, is not something that a lot of churches emphasize. It’s a very couple- and family-oriented subset of society, after all.

The discussion afterward is somewhat awkward, as I discover myself to be unfamiliar with the trouble most singles my age face – because the way I became single makes me a bit of an outlier. Just as we singles are an anomaly in a family-centric organization like a church, so too is a widower like myself an outlier amidst a collection of divorcees. The speaker mentioned how healthy people pursue relationships rather than shying away from them, but such a pursuit is grounded in a certain level of trust. This is something that I’m suddenly learning many of the people here, by dint of becoming single through litigation rather than loss, don’t have.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make connections with people in a single night, but I hadn’t expected to be up against so much more than just an abbreviated amount of time. The weird thing is, it would seem that, despite what I’ve gone through, I might very well be one of the healthier people here. I suppose I should be thanking you for that, honey. Compared to so many others, I’m in a much better state of mind. Maybe that’s why I was chosen to lead the table.

Anyway, there’s probably more I could tell you, but I’ll leave off at this point. I’ve got to get on with today, after all. Until later, keep an eye on me, and wish me luck. I’m still going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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