Most of Barber’s Adagio for Strings is intensely hushed and weeping, so Mom turns up the volume, but then The School for Scandal blares its horns and winds and Mom mercifully lowers the volume down to middling. Yesterday’s emotional volume flood-gushed and cymbal-crashed and left me feeling worn and ready to withdraw for an extended sabbatical to my cool dark cave. More than five-hundred singles had gathered at their annual conference, people just like me: 41+ years old, friends and members of my Church, divorced, widowed, or never married. I had plumbed my vulnerability reserves and found just enough courage to attend my first-ever event for older singles. I stood in a corner and scanned the crowd, not as a predator, but as a fascinated intimidated spectator who feared being thrust into the arena. People of all sizes, styles, and shapes, elegant to homely, hubris to humility. Women glanced at me curiously (thirstily?), and men haughtily, and moved on. I recognized that here was a room filled with pain and struggle, filled with dark disappointments, filled with raw effort and growth and triumph—these have all been mine, too, so I guessed I fit fairly in. I met many over ice-breakers and Polish sausages: Jessica, who has lost 70 pounds, no longer eats sugar, and does not work, being supported by her children; and Keith, who lost his wife to cancer, waited six months, and now is on the hunt; and Deborah, a graphics artist and child advocate who lost a son to muscular dystrophy and loves nature and hiking and was delightful to talk to; and Eric who recently moved from the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and who “just” runs a local warehouse; and Eileen, who jumped in to help set up round tables and unfold steel chairs and toss tablecloths because she was there and was needed; and many others during a black-out bingo mixer in which I would not participate because one had to make animal impressions (I finally yielded one dead-pan “ruff ruff”) and show off dance moves (having lost them decades ago, if I ever had them), gaze into someone’s eyes unspeaking for sixty seconds (oh God, never again!), and play rounds of Rock Paper Scissors to help ladies get their “bingo!” (kind of fun, actually). Keith decided he was my pal, and stuck to me while I mingled and politely conversed with the ladies. A room full of pain, I thought, and triumph. And I decided I admired every single person present (well, they were all single) for their willingness to be vulnerable, their courage to show up and be seen, their determination to hold intact their sense of value, their resolve to grow through suffering. Dancing came later, but I felt too terrified to attend, and Mom and Dad had a neighborhood party to go to, and I was their driver. I would like to see Deborah again.
(Pictured above: a small number of our group who hiked to the lower falls of Battlecreek Canyon, my favorite part of the singles conference activities.)