She’s one of those women who look like she walked out of a Dorothea Lange photograph. She’s not old enough to have gone through the Great Depression, but the lines on her face suggest a story she’d never cover with makeup. She wears her grey hair in a severe braid, and her painter’s pants reflect her utilitarian disposition.
We notice each other at school pick-up: she, for her grandchildren; me, for my sons.
By all appearances, we seem vastly different. I have a proclivity towards what my husband calls “Mary Tyler-Moore” ensembles, and will only leave the house without foundation and lipstick if I’m ill.
The woman and I acknowledge each other with a head nod. We share a respect that does not require the other to listen to polite chit chat. We are comfortable enough in ourselves to endure the silence, as if silence itself fashions a friendship.
We are not as different as it would appear. I come from sturdy stock as well. I didn’t know the women of my ancestry; they passed before I was born. Yet I’ve heard some of their stories. I’ve seen them in photographs, formidable and firm. In these faces, I see what I aspire to be—uncompromising.
It’s not a quality that many aspire to. One is well-liked if one is easy-going, agreeable, relaxed. I am not that woman. Neither is my new friend, and we both know it.
Our shared temperament suggests a story. A story where others attempted to fashion us in their image. Where they made their needs more important than ours. A story where we struggled to hold strong to our own sense of self.
I’m visiting at a parish for a First Communion when I see her serving at Mass. Her hair, in that ever-present braid, and a Birkenstocks-sock combo peak out from under her white vestment. As she performs her Eucharistic duties, her movements have an honest quality to them. I see her preparing the table, feeding the hungry, and cleaning up just as I imagine she has at family meals her entire life. In her forthrightness, I see the Eucharist is a family meal. I’ve heard it before but it’s in her maternal movements that I now know it. This quotidian act, now sacred, nourishes a deeper hunger.
During the hymn of praise, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s her; she’s noticed me too.
“Are you able to drink wine?” she asks me.
I understand her to be asking, am I a member of AA? I am not. I also understand they have over-estimated the distribution of the Precious Blood and the Priest has asked that it be consumed. I nod yes and follow her to the sacristy.
She stands before me with the chalice. “The blood of Christ,” she says, then hands it to me. I drink. The silence that has marked our alliance is now intimate; it becomes its own presence. The wine warms my body, tingles my lips, and I see her anew yet again. She recognizes me anew. There are things we do not know about each other. Yet we know each other better than most. And, standing there together, we know who we are.
Shemaiah Gonzalez is a freelance writer with degrees in English Literature and Intercultural Ministry. She thrives on moments where storytelling, art and faith collide. Published in Loyola Press, Busted Halo, America Magazine, among others, she is pursuing an MFA in Seattle where she lives with her husband and their two sons.