I walked into a coffee shop I hang out at a bit in downtown St. Paul. Among the folks in there was what I’ve come to term “the family.” Over the last ten years or so, I’ve found myself in the company of this couple and their increasing number of children on dozens of occasions.
The scene is always the same. The children, in various states of unkemptness, run wild, while the man, older and dominant in a quiet sort of way, pontificates to his younger wife about some Bible passage. He frequently takes shots at all organized churches, and includes them among Satan’s work. Meanwhile, for a long time, I wondered if the children were even getting home schooled, given how little they seemed to be able to read, write, or interact socially.
So, there they were doing their thing today. I sat down, and the guy sitting behind me started leaving a message on the phone about a Bible study session. For a moment, I thought “Man, you’re surrounded,” then let it drop.
Over the years, I’ve struggled to not run a litany of judgments through my mind about that couple and their kids. Until a month ago, I’d never said a single word to any of them. Then the wife turned to me, as I was working on a blog post, and said “Aren’t you that guy who goes to that Buddhist place?” I said I was and she looked at me, paused, and then said “I always found it funny that people would worship a guy who isn’t a God.” I smiled because it probably is funny from the outside, what we Buddhists are doing.
I’d forgotten that exchange this morning as I sat down and opened my laptop. As the couple gathered their children and started to leave, I was reading a post on someone else’s blog. For some reason, I looked up just as the wife said “I’m wondering if …” (short pause) “if you’d ever consider being challenged on you views?” Now, in the past, I probably would have been interested in such a debate. To prove that I could stand up as a Buddhist, even if the discussion went nowhere. However, as she said those words, I just thought “Life’s too short for this.” So, instead of engaging, I just said “I don’t think it would be worth our time.” And she nodded, stepped back, and said “Everyone has free will.” And walked out.
The guy behind me, who was reading a passage in the Book of Romans (he’d said as much in the phone message he left), says “Do you know that woman?”
“Barely,” I said, not knowing how else to explain this odd connection we’d had over the years.
“What was that all about?” he said. And I sat for a moment, wondering if telling him what it was about would just open up the same issue I had just cut off.
“We could have a long discussion about it, but it probably wouldn’t be worth it.”
He laughed a little at that, and said something about how that had been an odd exchange between her and I. I agreed, and then he went back to his Bible, and I to my blog. Which is where I am now, no less worn for wear.
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