On her first attempt, she didn’t like what she was wearing. On her second, she didn’t like what she was wearing with what she was wearing. On her third, it was shoes.
The same thing happened in the bathroom. The mirror kept her transfixed for eons. She fussed with her hair. She re-touched her make-up and finally she went back into the closet because she didn’t like what she was wearing.
“Let’s go!” I told her. “We will be late for church.”
“Have you shaved?” she asked.
I checked my chin. “Nope.”
“Well?….?” she said.
“Do I care what people think?” I asked.
“I care,” she said, “go shave and put on something that doesn’t have a cartoon on the back.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it is expected of you,” she said as if that were reason enough.
So I shaved and rummaged for the only shirt I own that does not have a cartoon on it and when I was done I waited while she bounced off doorways for another twenty minutes.
The final threshold was the worst. Every time we approached the front door, she thought of a new reason to turn back. Was the laundry window closed? Was the coffee pot still on? Had the cat-box been cleaned?
Because of all this we were late.
At our church you do not want to be late. It is impossible to slip in unnoticed because it fills from the back. Those who arrive late must plod the gauntlet of shame all the way to the front and let me tell you, there is nothing more judgmental than the reluctant. You do not want to parade past the guy who would rather be fishing or the college kid home for the weekend. Their glares wither concrete.
At the entrance, it was my turn to turn back.
“I can’t do this,” I said.
“No problem,” she said stepping around me. “We’ll do basement church today.”
Every house of worship has a place for cowards like us.. At Sacred Heart, it is the vestibule. At First Lutheran, it is the crying room. In our church, it is the basement. So we sat on metal chairs in the cafeteria and listened to what remained of the service from an overhead loudspeaker that sounded more like a swarm of angry wasps than the divine word.
As we got up to leave, I had to ask the obvious. “Why go at all when we have to hide in the basement?”
My wife was amused. “It’s an obligation, silly.” Like that explained it all.
For her it did. She is a small-town girl who appreciates the importance of doing what is expected (other than arriving on time). For me it did not. This web of obligations we are caught in seems silly and somewhat extreme.
For instance, we live in a rural area but my wife feels obligated to drive all the way into town, and burn a gallon of gas, to pick out a Hallmark card for a baby’s first birthday.
She is also compelled to donate to every silent auction in our area – even if it means donating the things we bought at the last silent auction.
In short, she firmly believes that because someone went to all the trouble of creating an obligation, it is incumbent upon us to satisfy its every requirement.
I never understood this, no matter how many times she explains it – but for her, obligations are the social glue that binds the community together.
As we rushed to our car to avoid being spotted, I said, “You know, the world isn’t going to spin apart if we miss an obligation.”
“True,” she replied, “but if everyone did that, it would.”