After the intense midsummer rainstorm, and after we finished singing the spiritual pieces we would be performing at this Sunday’s Choir Festival, Ocean Grove was completely clean. I stepped out into the cool damp air and made my way to the restrooms along with the other ladies who had been stuck in the choir loft for 2 ½ hours. I found a June Bug upside down on the floor of the restrooms, and compassionately coaxed him onto a make-shift piece of toilet paper, deciding that if he was dying, the hydrangeas would be a much more preferable location. An elder lady with a walker patiently waited, seeming to understand the plight of the disabled bug, as I momentarily stood in the way of the bathroom stall she was moving toward. I had planned on walking past the hydrangea bushes anyway. After setting the bug on an obliging leaf, I unashamedly picked some out for my living room, as they were in plenteous supply and no one in such an abundant town would ever notice a few missing. But what I really had wanted, what I dreamed of, was to gather a bouquet for my good friend Jonah, who had told me they they were his favorite flower. This is the same Jonah whom I wrote about in my first blog entry (https://hebelievesinme.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/ocean-grove-choir/), who accompanied me during my first day of choir practice in the Ocean Grove choir at the beginning of June this year.
But Jonah, I have come to realize, does not appreciate beautiful things like surprise flowers, which I would have insisted were a gift from God and Ocean Grove (where he was now intending to move). He would feel that it was some kind of manipulative trick, and so I would have to suffer instead by refusing my heart the luxury of venturing down this unique path of self expression for the time. It was my spontaneity and creativity and even my humor, which he could not relate to. And this left little else to connect us. Even my desire to assist him, to care about him, to share the depths of Scripture and of God with him, none of this ever was enough to cause him to want to consider a relationship with me.
Jonah sat in the audience during my first evening of choir practice, and enjoyed the beautiful spiritual music. The fresh smell of salt water filled the air which was new to me, being from Michigan. This was commonplace to Jonah and reminded him of better years when he was younger and healthier. He and I talked about plans to minister in Ocean Grove and neighboring Asbury Park the week that he was there with me. And he had even come back with me on a subsequent trip to the quaint little town.
But I did not ask him to accompany me tonight. A friendship which I had at one time dreamed could be more, never appeared to him as such a wonderful thing. And rather than being seen as a beautiful Godly lady in his sight, I seemed merely to be something which was far less than what he really wanted. Perhaps I was content to blame it on my growing older and somehow inevitably heavier. For a time I was ever so willing to settle for someone so attractive, whom I definitely was infatuated with, and who maybe one day I could venture to take care of, since he couldn’t work due to disability and didn’t drive, or have a car. At one point, I was flattered to have him suggest a purely physical relationship. But this, I had to convince myself, was in actuality nothing but the highest form of insult and degradation, especially as it would destroy me, devastate our friendship, and certainly put me out of commission pertaining to all the things I was currently planning on doing for God.
Before attending Choir practice for the evening, I had saturated myself in the latest headline news. 5 police officers were killed in Dallas, 7 more were wounded. I searched youtube to get the details regarding the 2 black men (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) in different states who had been shot by white police officers. This was a prelude to the protests, whereby 12 policemen were assaulted, their families and community, devastated. Meanwhile it is noteworthy that the most wonderful, charismatic and enthusiastic African American lady led a very large group of white folks (including myself) in a Negro Spiritual called “Every Time I feel the Spirit” in the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove tonight.
Venturing out to experience summer evenings in Ocean Grove without the company of Jonah, was a somewhat difficult decision, but such choices I am used to making. All I really had to do was acknowledge the things around me, the nuances in God’s creation, even the complexity of the political and tragic national news headlines which I felt only signaled the coming of the Messiah just that much sooner, and I felt more at peace than I had been with Jonah there. Any guy so caught up in the world that he could not see me as a sister in Christ, who considered me as anything other than a lovely woman of God, desiring my company for this reason alone, was not worth my time to even think about.
Feeling the heaviness left by the rain, lingering densely on every object around me, for yet another night I had not met a guy who so much as spoke to me, as often was the case in New Jersey. So much older now in my late 40s, was it assumed by most that I must already be married? Could I be simply unattractive now, more so than I realize? Have guys in New Jersey given up on the natural desire for women? Or has something in the 21st century atmosphere changed? Some men, even in Ocean Grove, are openly gay (I heard one guy in the choir proudly say so).
I had consciously made the choice not to miss Jonah tonight, who doesn’t appreciate gifted Hydrangeas, or kindness, or purity, nor to miss any other guy I could have been with, for that matter. I chose instead that if God had me alone once again, the music, the pure love of God and from God, and the post rainstorm reverie, would be enough to sustain me. The days I decided, are a gift, and the time, apparently, is short.