There are idiosyncrasies that different groups of people have about them. For example, since I was a very little girl, I noticed that Catholics sit in the same seat every single Sunday for Mass. And if someone new was in that space when a given family or individual got to church, well the whole entire ceremony was thrown off kilter. There would be constant disgusted glances thrown in the direction of the poor soul who just happened to sit in that space. Or sometimes a family would actually squeeze themselves into the space, no matter how tight it may have been.
Growing up, it was my entertainment for the week to watch as people filed into church each Sunday morning. I don’t remember anyone ever daring to sit in “our pew”, but I am quite sure my mom would have made our presence and her disappointment known had there ever been someone who did try.
All these years later, and these “assigned seats” are something that I still watch for and still find to hold true, no matter where I attend church on Sunday. And, yes, I have been both on the side of getting the dreaded stink eye and also giving it to some unsuspecting attendee.
One particular Sunday, a few years ago, I was attending a service that was not a normal time for me. I picked a seat toward the middle of the church and hoped it was a “safe” pick. Sure enough, about five minutes later, an elderly couple came and sat down right next to me. And I do mean RIGHT next to me. I looked at them, smiled, and slid over a bit to make room for what had to be their usual spot. They slid with me. So when the ceremony started, I gently took a few more baby steps to the side and gave them (or me) some space. And when I sat down, there they were, RIGHT next to me again! At this point, I had tried to inch myself away by about half a pew. And there was no one else in the pew with us, or in front of us, possibly blocking our view to the front.
What the heck?
So the service ended, and I went on my way. I thought about that situation on and off all week. Sometimes laughing about it as I told my fellow Catholic friends who could relate to the scenario and sometimes getting a little bit angry . . .I’m someone who needs my personal space.
The following Sunday, I attended Mass at the same time, and chose a different seat than the week before, but still in the same area. Five minutes in and my “friends” showed up, selecting to sit RIGHT next to me again!
COME. ON! REALLY??
And again, the same sliding and squirming ensued and we ended up squished into a little space, with the rest of the pew empty. I was having a harder time finding my sense of humor this go round. The service ended and I left, scratching my head the whole way out of the church.
The following week, I got smart and I sat between two other families. Maybe they wouldn’t see me “hidden” in this spot, or, at least, there really wasn’t any room for both of them to fit in the pew.
In they walked. We smiled at one another and they chose their seats RIGHT in front of me this week. I noticed throughout the whole service, one or the other of them would glance back, almost as if checking to see if I was still there. How strange, I thought! I really didn’t think I knew this couple, but maybe I did and maybe I should introduce myself and see if we actually did know each other.
So the next week, I made a conscious decision to exit slowly and give them a chance to approach me, if they wanted a chance to speak to me. As soon as the service ended, I took an exaggerated amount of time to gather my belongings. Just as I started to walk out, they smiled and said, “Good Morning!” They seemed almost nervous so I gave them my friendliest smile and warmest hello and told them I hoped they had a good day, and continued ever so slowly on my way.
“May we talk to you for just a moment, Ma’am?”
“Sure! My name is Mo!” and I offered a handshake.
“Do you mind if we sit?”
And so we did.
“You probably noticed we have been sitting near you the past few weeks.”
(Oh gosh . . .REALLY?? Nope. Hadn’t noticed a thing! )
“And, well, you see, it’s just that, . . . . . . .(looooonnnnggggg pause!!) . . . . you remind us so much of our daughter!”
“Oh, how sweet!”, I said with a smile. “Does she live far from you?”
“Well, yes. She’s in heaven now and we just couldn’t believe how much you resembled her and we couldn’t help ourselves when we saw you and . . . . .” and on and on they rambled for a few minutes, speaking so quickly and so nervously, I couldn’t even catch much of what they said.
Or maybe I was so completely devastated, my ears wouldn’t allow me to hear what they were saying. By the time they had finished talking, I had tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness for sure, for their story. But also tears of frustration with myself for the way I had acted those past few weeks, even if all my acting was only in my own head.
We just never know when we are called to serve others in this world. Or how that service will unfold itself. I saw them in church this weekend. We greeted each other with warm hugs, as if we were old friends.
Or long lost family members.