One Sunday, quite a while after our last official Sunday at Maybe Church, we drove up there again, on a whim. I don’t know why, really, other than some vague rewriting impulse on my part.
I sometimes believe I can rewrite unhappy endings in my life.
Maybe we’d go inside. Maybe things would be different. Maybe we’d finally have a conversation. Maybe people would say they were sorry for things that mattered, not things that didn’t.
Maybe the way it all ended wouldn’t stay the way it all ended.
But probably not.
You see, there’s hope and there’s reality and the two are not always synonymous and sometimes you cannot explain why you continue to have hope.
When a situation ends badly, I have a mystifying ability to continue believing that something redemptive will still happen, oh yes it will it will it will. This goes on for longer than it should and longer than I’d ever admit. (Psychologists call this “denial,” Trace.) Basically, I prance about in my own little Happy Hopeyland for a good long while, clinging to the belief that redemption will triumph over pain. That healing will triumph over woundedness. This doesn’t always happen when humans are involved. Actually, I’ve rarely seen it happen when just humans are involved.
Hope in people, I suppose, is never the best idea.
Following vague impulses to rewrite endings is also, let’s face it, never the best idea.
But there’s what you know and what you do and those two are hardly ever synonymous.
So, of course, we drove up to the church.
We pulled into the shady side of the parking lot, all hopped up on caffeine and ambiguity. Once MB turned off the car, however, we froze in our seats and just stared at the entrance.
Uh, what are we doing? Oh, that’s right, we have NO plan. So, yeah, what are we doing, again?
MB does these things for me. Hopes with me for a different outcome. Thumbs his hopeful nose with me in the face of stubborn reality. He frequently sees with great foresight how things will turn out even when I do not see — or, really, will not see — but at times he will lay aside this knowledge, temporarily, and go there with me. Out of solidarity. And love. And the weird thrill of a who-knows-what-will-happen caper.
This, alas, is his life with Tracey.
So, yeah, we had no plan. Just a couple of Sunday morning goobers sitting in a car in a church parking lot, wondering what to do, imagining something might change if we just showed up, as if our mere presence would alter reality. Well, I’m pretty sure just one of us imagined that.
But there we sat like lumps, MB voluntarily entering my personal Happy Hopeyland without so much as a sigh. Turns out, this is what goes down in Happy Hopeyland when you’re a couple of Sunday morning goobers sitting in a car in a church parking lot hoping for a rewrite: Fidgeting. Debating options. Drawing straws for who feels more ridiculous.
We watched the men in the perpetual orange vests with the perpetual orange flags wave people into their pre-ordained parking spots. Still doing that, I see. Predestination at work in the very act of parking. No free will here. If you choose that lot, you are choosing to have your choice made for you. We chose that lot just once and never again. There is plenty of parking available, so this seems to serve some other purpose. The men wave their flags even when no car is approaching, which I find silly. Actually, the whole practice seems vaguely anti-American, anti-freedom to me, but others are clearly fine with it. Slow, as usual, to get on board with the crowd — that’s me.
A car pulled up, perpendicular to ours. After a few moments a man, a woman, and a teenage boy got out and walked past us, still in our car, spinning our mental wheels in Happy Hopeyland. As they passed, the man turned around to look at us. He leaned in to say something to the woman and she turned around too. Finally, the boy pivoted and threw a furrowed look at us. The woman strolled over to the nearest orange-vested man, in her appropriately modest and unflattering skirt, and spoke to him. Then he, too, joined in the sudden alarming fad of looking at us.
“What is going on?”
“I don’t know.”
As we watched the man and boy walking to the entrance, turning this way and that, trying to look casual while they stared us down, simple curiosity trumped indecision and we were now glued to our seats for a whole new reason. Apparently, we’d been spotted as oh, no! people sitting in the parking lot, ohnoohnoohnooo!!
Several moments passed while we debated what to do now, after seeing that. We suddenly felt like trespassers. It was 20 minutes into the service. People were still arriving, milling about, not going inside. This church, I’d observed before, does not arrive when church actually starts. They really should hold the service in the parking lot or the lobby, where most people seem to be.
While we talked, an orange-vested man, the one previously alerted to our presence, approached our car. Hm. Here we go. I guess he really had been alerted.
He went around to MB’s side, where window was down, leaned in and peered down at us, like a cop. An unsmiling cop. I actually fought a reflex to grab the registration from the glovebox.
“Can I help you?”
“No, not really,” said MB.
“Are you just looking for a shady place to park?”
“No. We’re debating whether or not to go in.”
Well, not quite. We definitely weren’t going in now. I think Oprah got a friendlier greeting on that Mormon compound a few years ago.
“Oh.” He looked us over.
Uhm, do they give tickets here? I wondered.
“Well, let me know if I can help you,” he said, in a dismissive tone.
He seemed like a salesperson who will greet you but then sigh mightily if he actually has to help you. Or a cop.
“Uh-huh,” said MB.
The man walked away. We sat open-mouthed at the weirdness, the paranoia. Once all the orange vests had disappeared, we raced home on wheels of creepiness, and wondered aloud:
Is this how they welcome people now? Coming over to a car and questioning them? If we weren’t supposed to park there, why not just tell us? He said nothing about it, so it clearly wasn’t that.
It was either: We were unfamiliar and just sitting there and that totally freaked them out or we were familiar and just sitting there and that totally freaked them out.
Either way, calm down, peaches.
So did they know who we were? That bosomy tart with the slanderous anonymous blog and her crankypants letter-writing husband? That would surprise me a bit on one hand because we didn’t know anyone while we were there, really, and we didn’t recognize any of these people, either, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit on the other hand because there are no personal boundaries whatsoever at this church and everyone seems to know about everyone else’s business which is somehow, amazingly, NOT labeled as gossip, but this blog — with its tale of our anxious foray into an unnamed church — IS. Literally, I don’t understand anything anymore.
So if they knew who we were — again, creepy — are we officially unwelcome at this church now?
It was bizarre.
All I know is that the smell of paranoia is completely incompatible with Happy Hopeyland.