Thursday, February 17, 2011

Child-like Gifts

   For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I hold a painful childhood memory, of that time before adulthood when one was no longer allowed to love adults from a childish place.  I suppose this is what St. Paul spoke of when he used the phrase “putting away”.  The memory of the experience of that kind of love is like the crispness of last Spring’s breeze.  I would luxuriate in such a breeze in August.  I remember the pain of its rejection like a winter wind too.

I had just turned twelve that Spring and befriended, or at least tried to, a girl who was turning fourteen that July.  We were hanging out at our parents’ country club pool, though I was from the wrong side of town to her higher-class circles.  I didn’t know that then.  I also didn’t realize what it meant to strive to become sophisticated and how much awkwardness this would take before we were there.  Are we there?

Her name was Susan.  She was the middle of three children.  Her father owned a couple of photo shops in our community, not the prominent position one might think after visiting their home, which was in the “rich side of town”.  My mother helped me when I said I wanted to take her a birthday present.  We went shopping and my mother called her mother to ask for a visit.  We dressed up, as I recall.  My mother suggested that this sort of visit with a gift called for at least a sun dress.

When we arrived, the girl and her mother came out to the car to greet us.  Susan was smiling and I, overly enthusiastic, hurried toward her with my wrapped gift, which no doubt had been fluffed by Mrs. Henderson down at Hampton’s Drug Store.  Susan’s smile weakened just the slightest when she saw my child like glee at bringing her this over-done present.  She was gracious, at her proper mother’s side, thanked me and suggested we would see each other at the pool.  We were not invited in the house.  I was crestfallen.

It took me years to come to understand what happened that day.  Perhaps years full of awkward attempts to become sophisticated finally brought me to the realization that I had been “dis’d”  (back then we use the fuller word “ditched”).  Susan and I did not hang out at the pool again.  We, in fact, never spoke again other than superficially.  In fact I realized, looking back soon after this sting, that we had not really been hanging out to begin with.  She had been tolerating me this younger and probably annoying girl she saw in me.  She had been attempting to practice the niceness that her mother had thought her.  I did the same thing to younger girls in the years to follow, no doubt.  It is part of that culture’s coming of age rituals.  But I didn’t know that then.  All I knew was how much it hurt.

I have remembered this otherwise forgotten experience at those times when I have encountered other disappointments and failures in my career and relationships.  My heart was full and naïve and I came and offered my gifts only to get caught in some sort of strange and yet un-understandable cultural ritual.  It had nothing to do with who my parents are, or their status or mine.  It had nothing to do with who my husband is, or his people.  It had nothing to do with becoming more sophisticated.  Unfortunately, it ultimately had nothing to do with me, nor my gifts, nor my qualifications, nor my call.  It was all about some undefined and unattainable standard of who is a included.

I wonder how many people feel this type of rejection in everyday moments like mine with Susan.  It can happen so easily, through the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” subtle communications of the powers that be to outright vicious gossip.  Those of us who have put away childish things, however, learn to hold heads high and trust deeply in the Power that is.

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