IMG_0122.PNGI love my wife but she has her quirks. For example, this Sunday morning it took her three tries to leave the closet..

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.”

Author: Almost Iowa


25 thoughts on “Obligations”

  1. Women never seem happy with what they wear even though they spend hours deciding. Guys can be ready in 5 min, all happy and ready to go, until the dreaded , “Is that what you’re wearing?”

  2. This is one of my favorite blogs. Funny and entertaining, but also, like this post about obligations, shows me another perspective on everyday life. Thank you!

  3. “True,” she replied, “but if everyone did that, it would.”
    This is the soundest logic I have ever heard (completely sincerely). Sure traditions and obligations can seem silly but they certainly add a bit of structure to life.

    1. I was lapsed for years but I found an architecturally beautiful church [read traditional architecture, not the mother ship kind), a priest who gives sermons worth staying awake for and a choir that brings heaven down to earth. Beyond that, I see how it functions in the community. I am a systems guy, I designed complex systems for a living and I enjoy seeing how social patterns work….. (Yeah, I’m a geek. I admit that…)

  4. Usually I’m the one getting held up at the last minute, when my wife gives me the “Is that what you’re wearing?” line and I have to go back and find something that more suits her taste.

  5. My husband had a similar comment for me as I was describing a baby shower for the wife of my second cousin. As we were playing a game where you guess what features the baby will inherit from each parent (belch, baby shower games), I leaned over to my mother and said, “you know, I’ve never met her before today, and I’ve never had an actual conversation with him my entire life.”
    When I told Jeremiah this story, he asked me why on earth I was there at all. I basically told him because it was expected.
    Kind of silly when you think of it.

    1. Kind of silly when you think of it.

      These things seem silly until you don’t have them. A few years ago, both Robert Putman (Bowling Alone) and Francis Fukuyama (The Great Disruption) wrote extensively about the breakdown of “social capital” since the 1950’s. It seem strange to watch old fellows dressed in funny hats drive go-carts in city parades, but that is the sort of thing that holds communities together.

  6. I find it interesting that you begin this piece with “I love my wife but she has her quirks”. As if you didn’t. I do love the idea of basement church. Sitting on those hard chairs, you are reminded of all those sins you have committed the previous week. Like writing blog posts about your wife’s quirks. As far as purchasing things from auctions, I would think you’d purchase stuff specifically for the next auction. That way you don’t need to fritter away your time trying to figure out what to contribute. That’s what I do with Christmas presents. Someone gives me a Christmas present I don’t like, I put their name on it, then place in the closet for next year’s victim…I mean, Christmas present receiver. I usually have the right present. It’s right there in the closet.

    1. That’s what I do with Christmas presents. Someone gives me a Christmas present I don’t like, I put their name on it, then place in the closet for next year’s victim

      A fruitcake has been in gift-orbit in our family for decades.

      1. Perhaps one of these years, you might want to try the kimchee method with the fruit cake. Pour some special rum on it, bury it in the back yard, then dig it up for a special treat for the annual family reunion. You might just be the hit of the clan.

  7. I enjoyed reading this. At our church when I was growing up, we had to be early because we had to get “our pew” the one we always sat in. I think the Word of God had to enter my ear at a precise angle or it wouldn’t stick. If you made them (mother, grandmother) late for church, you knew what Hell was like.

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