The least of these.
There’s a woman here in college town, there are probably women like her in college towns everywhere, but then again there is no one else quite like her, we’ve known each other for years. For a long time I was involved as a coleader with a bible study at the community center downtown.
I think the intention (in having it at the community center)was to get all the little punk and goth teenagers to come. This didn’t much happen but we did attract Linda, or at least the food did, such as it was. (I remember a meal that consisted of plain potatoes in a crock pot and a box on dunkin donut munchkins). Often times she would squeeze us in between one free food event and another, an indigenous art opening and a bisexual vegan potluck. One of the great mysteries to this was that she clearly wasn’t poor. Yes, she dressed in cast-offs from the local clothing shelf, yes she lived in odd low rental living situations but when she wanted to she could treat herself to a really nice meal, (she is particular to salmon) and as I later discovered she could have afforded to own her own home if she really wanted too.
To sit with Linda in the small windowless room allotted to us by the community center was it must be said an assault on many of the senses. Its not that she had no standards in hygiene or fashion but they weren’t standard standards, that’s for sure, even for College town where they are looser then nearly anywhere else. When she was full of whatever cheap starch we had provided her she would often sigh contentedly and prop her pungent stocking feet up on the table. One could almost imagine the smell visibly pouring forth into room with little squiggly lines
Love is not a feeling it’s a choice, or so I’ve heard. With that in mind I set out, quite grimly, to love Linda, to do my Christian duty by her, to provide her with potatoes, to try and interest her in the bible study part of bible study (I had some success there and for my sins got to answer lots of weird questions about reincarnation).
Somewhere else in the Christian self help section of Borders I learned of the importance of boundaries. So along with the potatoes I administered boundaries. No she could not use my cell phone, no she could not have a ride, no she could not stay a few nights on our couch, all of which she asked for on a regular basis, if not all that expectantly.
So it may well have remained, another notch on my good Christian belt, like winning the ‘fear factor’ of Christian ministry had I not happened to be on the same bus with her coming back from Northampton the day that I received some bad news concerning church and a grant I was told was a sure thing. For various reasons I was quite distraught and I ended up crying in front of her and ultimately both telling her the story and being consoled. So much for boundaries! But by the end of the bus ride I think we both seemed more human to each other I got to escape my kind of kind but definitely distant persona and she got to escape her role as the God appointed thorn in my flesh.
There were at least two lasting results to this. One was that occasionally Linda will bring something to contribute. Once she even bought the entire bible study Mexican food. I still think of that evening as the miracle of the burritos. Another was that sometimes, not often, but sometimes I am actually genuinely able to like her. Since I’ve had my son this has been even a bit easier. She does seem genuinely to care for him and she makes him laugh. Not in the knowing way I have tried to make you laugh in writing this but with simplicity I can envy.