I’ll Always Remember
It’s been a lonely COVID-19 year, hasn’t it? Now that I am fully vaccinated, living in a new state, I am more than ready to begin some socializing, some group activities.
I’ve been “attending” a local Methodist church remotely, and the sermons, or messages, are meaningful to me. They worship on Sundays on the church lawn (we’re in North Carolina, remember) and will resume inside worship in June.
Reading through their website, I noticed their “senior” group would be having an end-of-season picnic to close out the year, and then would resume meeting in September. I’ll call them the “You’re Only as Old as You Feel” group.
Their announcement said, “We hope to see some NEW faces,” so I felt comfortable making an online reservation and providing my email and phone number.
It’s kind of ridiculous how excited I was about going to this event, my first such outing in more than a year. My former Wisconsin senior complex hosted monthly dinners that I always enjoyed. But with the pandemic, those events came to a screeching halt.
I reminded myself that the “You’re Only as Old…” group suffered from the virus restrictions as well.
Now, Nancy, remember, they are all going to be excited to see each other and visit, and you can just sit in and listen. They haven’t been able to meet for a year.
It’s nerve-wracking to walk into a new group. But I am not a shrinking violet. Since publishing my books, I have presented at many public gatherings, and I know how to introduce myself to strangers. As I signed in at the Welcome table, I said,
“Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m new.”
“Well, Welcome, Nancy! We’re so glad you are here. And I see your name right here on the registration. Please go on to the next table and make a name tag.”
That happened at the next two tables I visited, signing up to provide food for a food bank, and picking up a bottle of water to go with my lunch. Each table hostess welcomed me.
Next came the hard part, finding someone to sit next to and eat my lunch. There were already about fifty people, seated around the lawn. (Old people are always early!) It happened another lady was just arriving and setting up her chair, so I asked,
“Do you mind if I sit next to you? I’m Nancy, and I’m new!”
But as soon as we sat down, another woman came up and said, “You all can’t sit here. You’re blocking the picture-taking backdrop.”
I got up, folded my chair, and moved toward the grassy area she directed us to. My former “neighbor” stayed behind and moved her chair into a circle of other women she knew.
So that’s how I found myself sitting apart, eating my lunch by myself. Oh my gosh, this is worst than eighth grade!! A young woman came and introduced herself to me as an assistant pastor. We visited for a while, until announcements started. When she left, I thought, I’ll bet she will point me out as a newcomer, and somebody will come rescue me.
It really became painful. I contemplated getting up, folding my chair and returning to my car. That seemed too dramatic. I kept reminding myself, remember, they are all catching up. Remember, they don’t know everyone here and they are shy about introducing themselves to an unfamiliar face. Still, I felt teary. Can you believe it?
I saw another assistant pastor and the youth minister. I recognized them from the online services. They busied themselves discussing a tree on the lawn, gesturing at the branches and leaves. See, Nancy, even they are uncomfortable going up to people and making small talk.
AT LAST, a woman, I will call her Penelope, came over to me and said,
“Why are you sitting here with no one to talk to?”
I told her I was new, from Wisconsin. She was aghast.
“Oh, my golly, we want you to come sit with us!”
And, of course, that turned everything around. I was welcomed. They invited me to their circle meetings, their aerobic classes, their farmers’ market. I got referrals for a new dentist and a good place to take my car for service. I even won a door prize. They brought over the senior minister to meet me.
So, it was painful, but good. My feeling is, it takes vigilance on the part of groups, if they do really want new members. The first hostess should say, “You’re new? Let me introduce you to so-and-so, so you will have someone to sit with.”
That didn’t happen, several steps along the way.
But I will always remember Penelope and I will always strive to be a Penelope…the one person who looks around and notices who is sitting alone.