When Things Get Hairy

The Sunday before my oldest son’s birthday we decide to meet him along with the rest of the kids after church at our favorite restaurant to celebrate. My husband asked me on the way to church, which I was attending for the first time in a very long while “You having the chicken fried steak?”

It’s what I always order when we go to this place for breakfast. It’s to die for: yummy goodness on a plate. I say “Hell no. That meal is ruined forever for me. Have you forgotten about that horrible day?” My stomach does a sickish little turn at the mere thought of chicken fried steak.

He looks at me with total amazement. “Are you kidding me? You’re letting one little incident ruin the best breakfast in Spokane?”

Now, if this were a flashback scene a survivor was having in a horror movie, you would hear the foreboding music that plays just before someone is about to be slashed with a machete by some creepy masked guy. The camera would first zoom in on a big, black hair that sat right on top of my gravy in perfect corkscrew form which made me feel CERTAIN it was a pubic hair. Then the camera would pan in on my face, horror in my glazed over eyes, lips thin and pale but stoically resolving to not scream. I wave my hand for the waitress who comes over quickly. “What can I get you love?”

“Could I have a double bloody Mary with extra olives?” I ask, trying to keep my eyes on her face and not look at the glaring abomination that has ruined my $14.95 breakfast.

“Sure thing honey!” and she trots off to get my drink.

My husband asks “Why didn’t you just tell her there is a hair on your food?”

“If I say something, then all they will do is take the plate back to the kitchen and take the hair off and maybe throw some more gravy on my plate, nuke it in the microwave and serve it right back to me. And that’s only if they feel BAD about the hair being there. If they think I’m a brat they will leave the hair and just cover it with gravy. And even if they did give me a new plate, I’d always wonder if they really had. No. The damage is done.”

“You have serious trust issues. Do you maybe need to see someone for this?”

“Look, I know that I probably eat plenty of other people’s hairs all the time without knowing it. But the emphasis for me is on the NOT KNOWING. Once I KNOW it’s just all over. See? So I understand that in reality this is not a big deal and if I were a mentally strong person I would pick the hair off and carry on with eating. But I am NOT strong in this category. No sense complaining about something that is my issue, unless of course the cook put that hair there on PURPOSE. But just thinking that would mean I am paranoid and just plain weird. So I am going to drink my breakfast and carry on. And YES I have guilt for wasting food. But that is a whole different issue.” The waitress brings me my new and improved breakfast and I raise it in a toast while my husband shrugs and digs into his food. He knows I am a lost cause.

Enter us, birthday breakfast day, into church. The prodigal daughter and her husband, the holy one who doesn’t let hairs get in the way of his enjoyment in life.

As I knelt down to try and pray, the hair incident stayed on my mind. Why did I so often let little things stop me from experiencing joy? I listened to the readings and then to the heartfelt homily from the priest who was new to our parish, or at least to me, the fallen one, and a swoosh of warm, delicious peace came over me. And as I returned to kneeling position in overwhelming, goose-bump awe after receiving communion, I realized I had I let my distaste for the previous priest, hold me back from witnessing a perfect place of Human/God connectivity.

Now keep in mind, I’m a convert to the Catholic faith and I have it in my mind that converts are looked upon by cradle Catholics in the same way people with new found riches are viewed by “old money” families: we simply don’t know how to use our riches properly and our ways of enjoying those riches are often frowned upon. But we newbies don’t really care. One example for me is that not going to Mass has never created a whole lot of guilt for me. I have always known, since I was a little girl that God wants us to WANT to hang out with Him, wherever we find ourselves. Going to church simply for fear of eternal damnation has always seemed counterproductive. Plus, no one wants to hang out with a friend who clearly would rather be somewhere else than with you. Right?

And this is the double edged loophole logic along with the excuse of disliking how another human spun HIS connectivity to God that I used to to stop attending mass for so long that I forgot how good it felt to go and got to a point that I no longer had the thirst to do so.

Funny the hell we can create for ourselves without any help from the devil. But grace is pretty bad ass and takes on all kinds of forms to open up our hearts. Sometimes in the shape of a yucky black hair on gravy.

Later at breakfast my husband raised one eyebrow when I ordered the chicken fried steak and a bloody mary with NO olives. On account of the fact that I was feeling pretty filled up.

Ten Minutes to Grace

She drove along the icy street near her company’s building in a daze of sadness. Her workload had felt overly intense the last few months and she was missing her kids and dreading all the things she had left to accomplish before the day was done, feeling weary all the way inside her bones and only vaguely noticing a small, thin man fruitlessly pushing a large woman in a wheelchair up the middle of the slippery street. She drove around them and pulled into the parking lot and got out of her car. Her life just felt complicated and filled with things that did not make her heart sing. Tears of frustration threatened to fall as she skidded across the parking lot to the front door, arms filled with a pile of samples and the strap of the stuffed bag she called her briefcase cutting painfully through her coat sending spasms into her shoulder.

But then she stopped in her tracks, sighed deeply and turned around to look more carefully at the struggling couple who had just finally registered all the way in her self absorbed mind. They had not made an inch of progress and the woman was now out of her wheelchair, leaning on the handles shuffling on the ice, while the man tried to guide her forward. She went back to her car and put her load in the back seat and walked over to the couple. “Do you need some help?” she asked.

They both stopped and gaped rather blankly at her as though shocked to be noticed. “I’m just trying to get her up the street three blocks for her doctor’s appointment but we can’t seem to get anywhere with all this snow and ice.” The man was scowling with frustration, his crooked, brown teeth poking out of his mouth making his frown look almost comical. He wore a worn army jacket and a dirty baseball hat on his head, curly grey hair poking out at his neck in different directions.

“Will her wheelchair fold up? I can give you a ride up the hill but I don’t think the chair will fit in my little car.”

Both of their faces lit up and they were instantly changed from struggling and angry to soft and warm and hopeful. The man spoke with great relief in his voice: “That would be so great. If you could just give her a ride, I can push the chair up the street and meet you both and get her into the building.”

“I can do that. Hold tight and I’ll pull around” she said and went back to her car, trying not to think about the possibility that the large woman, coatless, in pink polyester pants and a faded grey t-shirt that was too small for her might be crazy, since the only medical building up the street was a mental health facility. She pulled her car into the street, hopped out and opened the passenger door to assist the man in helping the woman into the seat. Her car was currently now blocking the road and two cars were unable to go around, one honking impatiently. She looked up at the honking jerk driver and smiled, then blew a kiss at his scowling face. “Asshole” she muttered under her breath.

“Yeah. The bad weather seems to bring it out in people” said the man as he helped the woman drop her large body into the seat with a huff, filling it all the way. The door didn’t look like it was going to shut easily. “Okay! I’ll hurry on up with the wheelchair” he said. “It will be easy now. See you in a second.” He placed his hand lovingly on the woman’s shoulder for a second before gently shutting the door.

She got into the driver’s seat and waited for the man to move the wheelchair out of the way of the cars and then letting them too get out of the way before she proceeded to drive up the hill. “What’s your name?” she asked the woman, noticing that she had beautiful,smooth skin and snappy, bright blue eyes that lit up her large, round face.

“Cassandra” she said shyly. “Thank you for helping us. My boyfriend was having a tough time helping me. I got so fat this year from being so sad that I can barely walk. I’m not sure why he stays with me.”

“Well, you must be quite wonderful because he clearly loves you. His eyes light up when he looks at you. No doubt about that.”

The woman’s eyes welled up with tears but she was smiling as they pulled up to the mental health building. They both turned to watch her boyfriend jog floppily up to the car with the wheelchair, grinning. “You’re chariot m’lady” he said as he opened the door with flourish and helped her into her seat with wheels. “Thank you again ma’am. We really appreciate the help. You made our day.”

“And you mine.” she said to them, smiling as he closed the door, realizing that while only ten minutes had passed since she’d lent a hand to this couple, grace had packed its glorious punch into that brief bit of time, filling her back up.