My husband and I went to a fancy dinner the other night; a dinner to which I was particularly eager to go, first of all because a whole bunch of my friends were going to be there, and second of all, because it was free, a kind gift given to me as a thank-you for the World Literature class I teach for our ARCHES group. So of course, since I was so happy to be going, my husband made sure to wait until I was spritzing myself with perfume while happily humming "Puttin' On the Ritz" to myself before giving me an extremely unwelcome piece of news from work.
So we yelled at each other with the kids miserably hunched into their seats in the minivan all the way to Art and Michelle's house, where we got out and pretended like nothing was wrong. Because that's the kind of people we are: complete hypocrites who put forward a good show while secretly elbowing each other and digging our heels onto one another's insteps when people's backs are turned, kind of like that television commercial for ESPN's SportsCenter with Peyton and Eli Manning, only spouses instead of brothers.
We went on to the dinner with Art and Michelle unwittingly forcing us into a facade of peaceful unity. But since they are very congenial people, my husband and I gradually relaxed and let go of our ill humor. Neither one of us has ever been able to stay mad at the other for very long.
The evening was a real delight. My friend Jane grabbed me when I came in the door and whispered, "Let's sit together!" into my ear, so when dinner was served, we grabbed our husbands and zoomed to a table, staking out four chairs. We were joined by Mark and Gloria: Gloria is a friend of mine who looks like a petite, dainty porcelain doll, which could fool you into thinking that she has a demure demeanor. Until she unleashes her singing wit and sparkling eyes and reveals that she is pure mischief underneath that adorably sweet exterior.
So our table was extremely lively, there among the white tablecloths and scattered rose petals and tiny little candles -- it all looked really beautiful and romantic. By the time we finished our salads, the six of us were all laughing about how typical it is of couples to fight like junkyard dogs on the way to a gathering -- like, say, Mass -- and then get out of the car smiling and pretending that everything is just fine, just perfectly fine. The food was served buffet style and everything was delicious. Our waiter and waitress -- kids from the homeschool group earning a little spending money -- were extremely solicitous about keeping the iced tea flowing and dessert was a cup of really good coffee and a piece of the creamiest cheesecake I've ever eaten.
My friend Debbie -- the one who wants me to write a book on the realities of homeschooling -- was the organizer of the evening's events and I was very impressed. She hadn't overlooked one single detail in making the evening a really lovely grown-uppy evening of food and fun.
Well, until we got to the speakers, that is.
In her defense, the fact that the speakers absolutely sucked swamp grass is not Debbie's fault in the least. When you arrange for speakers to come to your event, all you know is what they choose to tell you about themselves. Unless, of course, they are nationally known speakers like former president Bill Clinton, but I just remembered that he was impeached for lying under oath, so that wasn't probably the best example I could have used. Anyway, what Debbie knew is that the speakers -- let's call them the Winkler-Blinxes to protect them from public derision and me from a possible lawsuit -- were a married professional husband and wife team, the parents of two young children, who have a side line giving motivational and inspirational talks to couples.
The Winkler-Blinxes came forward to polite applause at Debbie's introduction and I felt that my relationship with them was immediately wrong-footed because the podium at which they were speaking was right behind my back. I had just been served the coffee and cheesecake and if I turned around to face them, I wasn't going to be able to partake. So you know me -- I chose to make my back look as attentive as possible. My husband on one side and Gloria on the other both obligingly turned their seats, but they could still reach their cheesecake and coffee.
Mr. and Mrs. Winkler-Blinx started out by asking us to engage in the type of "spiritual" exercise that some people call "hippy-dippy," but which I usually dismiss as "a load of crap." We were to take a passage of Scripture and read and quietly reflect on it, which is not a bad thing. Not at all. This is the practice of lectio divina, started by St. Benedict in a very early century of the Church (maybe the fourth? I can't remember.) Lectio divina translates from Latin as "divine reading" and it is a very worthy spiritual exercise of contemplative prayer. But here's where I, a literary snob if nothing else, set my jaw and winced as if fingernails had just screeched down a blackboard:
Anyone who has practiced and truly knows lectio divina -- especially a professional woman who does this kind of thing for a living -- ought to be aware that the correct pronunciation of lectio divina is with the proper Latin pronunciation -- l-e-x-i-o divina. Not leck-tee-oh, never. It's lecks-see-oh. And she should have known that if she's "trying" to teach other people to do it.
Mr. Winkler-Blinx gently ans subtly corrected her as he continued with their shared explanation of what we were supposed to be doing. The missus passed around some papers with the passage of scripture outlined on it (I didn't keep it) and when I looked at it, I just drooped. I truly hate this kind of thing. I hate it. The worksheet had all kind of directions on it for how we were supposed to be while doing this exercise, but they'd lost me. And my husband, too, as it turned out.
In fact, everyone in the room seemed dubious, but out of courtesy, most people gave it a shot. My husband and I sat and pretended that we were engaged in the activity, but in reality, we were whispering words of anarchy.
"I hate this," I said.
"I know," my husband whispered back. "I hate it too."
"How can they expect us to take all this hooey seriously?" I indicated the paper full of psycho-babble and grimaced.
My husband cast a furtive glance at the Winkler-Blinxes, who were apparently taking their own exercise so seriously -- I'm sure they would have referred to it as "modeling" for us --they were about to melt into a white hot puddle on the floor. "I think they might be a danger to themselves," he said.
"I might be a danger to them," I hissed. "I feel like standing up and saying, 'Friends! Homeschoolers! Countrymen! Lend me your ears! Let's run these people out of here and have another piece of cheesecake!"
Fortunately, the opening exercise was over just then and we were presumably readied up for their talk, which was all about how great their marriage was, mostly because they, the Winkler-Blinxes, were so great. Mrs. Winkler-Blinx coyly confessed to being "a real Type A" who just has so much energy and enthusiasm for life, her family practically has to wing her out of the trees every evening. Hubby, an enlightened man who agreed to hyphenating his surname when they married, told us that he has been a constant journaler since he was an undergrad, and was kind enough to share with us several glowing passages he'd written about his wife and her brilliance.
Just when I thought I was going to have to set my hair on fire with one of the little candles to dull my pain, they moved on to telling us how amazing and sensitive their eight- and ten-year-old kids were -- how environmentally aware, how prayerful, how wonderfully well-developed their social consciences were... You can't imagine. You just really can't. The whole thing was an invitation to bask in their wondrous and self-congratulatory aura of loveliness.
The Winker-Blinxes rounded off their talk by inviting us all to "participate" in another little exercise that they'd "formulated" as a twosome -- lucky us. They explained that they were going to play a song for us, and while the song was playing, they wanted us to hold hands and look into one another's eyes, feeling and being the song for each other.
That was when several people at several different tables started erupting into little snorting giggles that they tried to disguise as coughs, sneezes and maybe even little farts, I don't know. My husband's shoulders were moving and I knew that if I looked at him, I would lose it. LOSE IT. I knew that I would start laughing and that I wouldn't be able to stop until I was tear-stained and aching and gasping for breath. So I stared at the tablecloth, biting the inside of my cheek, willing myself sternly not to laugh. Because whatever my mother thinks about the total failure of her efforts to get me to behave myself, I am not a rude or mean person. At least not to people's faces. I wait until I am behind their backs, like now, to say what I really think. And as comedian Kathy Griffin once pointed out, that's called manners.
"As you look into each other's eyes," Mr. Winkler-Blinx said softly into the microphone as Josh Groban's vastly overplayed tune 'You Raised Me Up' began to play, "please concentrate your gaze on your spouse's left eye, for we've discovered that the left eye is the window to the soul."
I know. I KNOW. He really said that. He said that, and he expected the people in the room not to come unglued.
Later, I found out that Gloria was laughting hard, sitting behind me with her face buried in her hands. Art and Michelle also told us that they couldn't get control of themselves, although I couldn't see them. My husband was in a quiet state of disbelief and he whispered, "They're doing it. They're doing it."
"You mean looking into each other's left eye?" I asked, with my napkin pressed against my mouth.
"OH, yeah. They are really and truly thinking and feeling the song for each other."
"Isn't this song supposed to be about Josh Groban and his relationship with Jesus?"
"Well, I thought so and you thought so, but I guess they think that it's supposed to be about the little gods and goddesses in us all."
I had to bend my head lower at that, concentrating on keeping the wild gales of laughter bottled severely up inside my chest.
"Oh my gosh...you can't believe this -- " my husband began.
"What?" I asked.
"They are actually mouthing the words 'I love you' at each other," he said incredulously. "They are. I swear. While holding hands. And gazing into each other's left eye."
"Ohhhhhhhhh..." I groaned, covering my mouth with both hands, mindful of the fact that they were standing only about six feet behind me.
Fortunately, even songs like that one finally end -- they just seem like they go on forever, especially in a setting like that. The Winkler-Blinxes managed to pull themselves away from their mutual eyeballs long enough to say a few more quiet words and wrap up their talk, causing Gloria to start a round of applause, which fizzled out miserably after two or three half-hearted claps. Debbie rushed forward to the podium with a slight air of hysteria.
"Well!" she said wildly. "Thank you! Thank you so much for that wonderful talk! And for the exercises! I'd like to do the first one with my family! Thank you for being with us! I know you have another engagement this evening, so we'll say goodbye and thanks again!"
This time, the applause was much more enthusiastic. The Winkler-Blinxes indicated a stack of their "materials," which we were all free to pick up and take along, just in case we ever had need of some speakers who could come in and make a hot mess out of a lovely evening we were planning for some friends.
Good humor was restored to the gathering as they left, and couples were invited to drift off and spend about twenty minutes off uninterrupted conversation together, which my husband and I put to good use in telling each other we were sorry.
"I'm sorry I gave you bad news just before we left for the dinner," he said, squeezing my hand affectionately.
"And I'm sorry I was so hard on you," I said, returning the squeeze three times in our time-honored manner: I - love - you.
"I love you, too," he replied, and slipped an arm around me.
"Tell it to my left eye," I whispered, and kissed him on the cheek.
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