Sunday, December 08, 2013
Jane the Baptist
It was 3 PM. She was dressed in print pajamas, covered over by a plaid bathrobe, over which was a tattered, soiled apron. Her furry slippers had seen better days, and her hair hadn’t seen a comb or brush in a while.
We had been chatting about this and that at her kitchen table when, quite suddenly, she brushed aside a wisp of her gray hair from her face and giggled like a schoolgirl.
“Oh, dear,” she said. “It seems I’ve forgotten to put in my teeth. I’m so comfortable without them that I never wear them around the house.”
She giggled again, “Sometimes, I even forget to wear them to the market and then, I say something to the young girl at the register and realize, Oops!, I didn’t put my teeth in.”
She giggled again. “She must have thought me a crazy person.”
“I think,” I said, “At a certain age, you should be comfortable, no matter where you are.”
“Right you are,” she said, “Well said. Women of a …. mmmm . . .’certain age’,” she paused and giggled again, as if the secret of her age were well kept and undetectable, “you earn certain privileges.”
“We women spend all of our younger years dressing to please others – especially men – plucking our brows, wearing lipstick, making sure our gloves match our hat and our shoes match our purse. And then, one day, you grow up and realize that you can do that if – and when – you want. But, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Sometimes,” she said, lowering her voice so no one else would hear – even though we were quite alone in her kitchen – “I wear a plaid skirt with a print shirt. Just because I feel like it.”
She giggled wickedly again, as if she were breaking some hard –and-fast rule which carried with it a penalty of corporal punishment.
“Listen, dear,” she said. “I am 86 years old. That’s far younger than you, I’m quite sure. But, I’ve learned that, at a certain age, a person is old enough to be as young as she wants to be."
"I recently drove to Virginia to attend the funeral of my younger sister," she continued. "She was five years my junior in physical age, but she might as well have been 100 years my senior.”
She wiped a tear from her eye, took a deep breath and said, “My sister was always concerned about everyone else. Never herself. She always put her husband and her children first. Indeed, she might as well have been invisible in their eyes. Even at her funeral, all they could ask is, ‘How could she leave us? What will become of us now?’”
“Imagine!” she said. “These are grown adults! Older than you,” she huffed disgustedly. "And I said to them, ‘Well, perhaps now you’ll know just how important and special she was. You certainly didn’t when she was alive.’"
“That’s the other thing that happens when you are a woman of a ‘certain age’. You begin to tell the truth, even if it hurts. Because,” she said, “you know that living a lie hurts more than the truth ever could. In fact, you learn that living the truth is the only way to live your life, because the truth has a way of catching up with you, anyway.”
“Yes,” I said, “I’ve discovered that.”
“Ah,” she said, “I suspected I might be …. mmmm…. how do you say in your business . . . “preaching to the choir”?
And then, she giggled again. In the midst of that delightful giggle, I could imagine the deep wrinkles in her face fading away, the old, mischievous, wonderful sparkle shinning through the dullness in her eyes, the knots of arthritis disappearing from her hands.
I looked at her again and realized that, while her youthful beauty had faded, the beauty of truth and wisdom that was in her shone through and shimmered with an elegance and grace that had been weathered and honed by the years.
“Here’s an early Christmas present for you,” she said, “Advent, I think you call it. Anyway, here it is: The truth is a terrible thing. And, by terrible, I mean awful. As in ‘awe-full’. Its power, when you realize it, fills you with awe. No one can ‘own’ it or ‘possess’ it. That’s because the truth can be two different things at the same time.”
“A paradox, you mean,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “Exactly! That’s the truth about Christmas, you know. It’s a paradox. It is two truths about God that are completely different and yet, both are perfectly true.”
“You see, Christmas is about the truth that God is both human and divine. God is both ancient of days and new as a babe. God is invisible and yet, we can see that spark of the divine in every human being. That is, if we are willing to be less concerned with how we – or others – look and, instead, look for the divine in each and every human being.”
“Yes,” I said, “Yes, I understand.”
“Ah, I knew you would. That’s why you didn’t notice – or, at least say anything – about my not having my teeth in. Or that it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I haven’t yet dressed for the day. I thought it might not be just because you are polite and well mannered. A real lady, you are.”
She giggled wickedly again. “And the truth about Christmas,” she said, “makes us all children again. Toothless and wise beyond our years.”
“It’s a miracle,” she said with a surprising joy.
“Yes it is,” I said, “Indeed.”
She whispered again, conspiratorially, “In Advent, everyone is watching the manger and Mary and Joseph. Pshaw!” she said. “We have enough time at Christmas to look at them. In Advent, we should be watching John the Baptist, you know?”
“‘Repent!’ he said. “The Kingdom of Heaven is near!’ And, no one believed him because he looked crazy.”
“If you want to see Jesus,” she said, “Look for John the Baptist! He’ll lead the way!”
I smiled as I considered her words.
“So, a cup of tea, then! That’s what we shall do! Have a cup of tea!” She jumped up with surprising agility and speed and started to make her way to the stove.
She turned and smiled at me, “Honey?” she asked, “Or, perhaps . . . . . some wild locust?”
She turned back to the stove and giggled again, and in the midst of the music of her laughter, I distinctly heard the voice of John the Baptist say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near!”