On Palm Sunday, I got into an argument with a stranger sitting next to me at church. This was a first for me (I think) and it bummed me out big time because I don’t enjoy fighting, ESPECIALLY at church.
Church is supposed to be my sanctuary, my haven, my exhale. Scuffling with some entitled heffa on the subway when she yells at me for accidentally grazing her with my purse? Yes. And different from conflict with people within the church as that is natural once everyone gets to know each other more but I thought surely DURING service, we all on our best behavior.
Picture it. March 25, 2018. Queens, NY.
I am sitting in the balcony minutes before the sermon is about to start. Kevin whispers to me that his back is killing him so he has to stand out in the vestibule. Minutes later, I gather my stuff to join him because I don’t get to spend much childless time with him these days and we like to worship together when we can. I also want to be free to cough if I need to.
I walk out to see that there are absolutely no seats left because of the explosive Palm Sunday attendance. Kevin advises that I return to the sanctuary and try to grab my seat back.
I whispered, “Excuse me,” as I had to pass the one lady who was sitting to my right. I had to pass her on my way out and I’m sure I was annoying to come right back but hopefully, she could understand that I had my reasons.
I pass her as carefully as possible and she loudly remarks, “OOOOKAAAYYYY!!!”
My Joy Luck Club reflex kicks in and I respond with a “Me so sorry” wince and an, “I’m sorry!” which is the exact opposite of how I felt. SURE SHE CAN BE ANNOYED LIKE I AM WHEN PEOPLE WALK IN LATE AND HAVE ME SCOOT IN but I am gracious about it because…WE AT CHURCH.
The congregation is told to say a brief silent prayer and when we emerge, I feel my body heat up.
“Why did you say ‘OOOOK’ like that? I had to pop out to check on my husband and also have a cough attack. I know it’s so annoying to pop back in but that was rude.”
“Look, WELCOME BACK, OK? WELCOME!” (or something like that, maximum snark)
“That was rude and passive-aggressive. I didn’t say anything when you walked in late, ok?”
We go back and forth and the sermon begins. I wanna fight her. My blood is boiling. Whenever she responds to the sermon with her, “Mmm” and “hahaha,” I want to turn around and say, “WHAT YOU MMMING AND HAHAING FOR, YOUR RUDENESS?”
Pastor talkin’ about “Get behind thee, Satan” and homegirl has the audacity to “mmmhmmm.” I am so annoyed that I text my friend. She texts back the perfect response about how she, too, is in the middle of a conflict at home and that we have the power to make the right choice.
I calm down a bit and church starts singing. I’m hyper-aware of this lady to the right of me. I swear if she starts harmonizing to the song, I’mma have to quit church altogether.
Afterwards, she awkwardly extends a peace offering of, “Hope you feel better,” which is better than nothing and I say, “I need to talk to you in private, please.” She says, “Look, I don’t want to get into it with you,” and I say, “It’s going to be the opposite of what you think.”
We go outside the sanctuary and I explain, “Look, I was just hurt because I usually overexplain my every move, like why I popped out in the first place and why I annoyingly popped back in and look, I know it is SUPER annoying to pop back in and interrupt your focus. I decide not to overexplain for once and when you said, ‘OOOOKKK’ it hurt me. But I couldn’t let you go without talking to you because this is church, we just listened to a sermon together, and it was just gross. I couldn’t even focus on the sermon, could you?”
“Yeah, I mean, I just let it go. And it’s just my personality. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Yeah, but sometimes we say things that could unintentionally hurt someone and I was hurt when you said OOOOOKKKKK like that. I’m sorry to have fought with you though and like I said, TO FIGHT IN CHURCH IS BEYOND GROSS!”
“Can we hug it out? What’s your name?”
We hugged it out and no, this is not a story of how we Kumbaya’d and became best friends. It just felt so much better to reconcile though we may never go further than that, or be each others’ cup of tea EVER. It just reminded me that no place on Earth is a conflict-free zone, unless you NEVER speak to anyone and silently slip in and out.
And then came Good Friday. A woman expressed her grievance against Kevin because she held the door open for him and he was so distracted wrangling the kids that he slipped on through with nary a “thank you.” I actually co-signed with her and offered her MY thank you and she said, “Thank you for that but I’m actually speaking to you, sir. YOU’RE WELCOME. I was holding the door open for YOU.”
Kevin didn’t even notice that there was a conflict surrounding him. He is THAT opposite of me.
I then noticed that I held the door open for families that evening after the grievance against Kevin, on Saturday with friends, and even for a pastor on Easter Sunday with zero acknowledgement and I finally learned that while this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine, I have to understand that people, including my own husband, SURE get distracted. I will try not to hate.
Also, being a person of faith does not mean that I will just respond with “Shalom” when someone is rude. I don’t think I even aspire to be like that.
Lord, help me live with others – in my apartment, on the crowded subway, at the office, ALL KINDS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE SCENARIOS, and also, CHURCH. And please consider moving us to a land with far less people though because You taking character-building a bit far, no? I’mma go feed my kids some Costco lasagna now on this snowy April day. Thank You for food and funny snow and family time.
Church is still my haven. A slice of heaven, though not conflict-free like heaven.