Feeble Knees

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Idols R Us - Part I

When is a birthday gift an abomination?

A couple years ago an old, old friend from eons ago picked up the phone and called me. I hadn't talked to her since high school, and so much of our lives had changed since then. We'd drifted apart by the end of our junior year and went off after various pursuits. We lost touch altogether during college. About a year after my college graduation, tragedy struck her family. I attended the wake. We hadn't seen each other in probably five years at that point. When I reached her in the receiving line, no words were said; we just held each other and sobbed. A year or so later my phone rang, she was finally ready to talk again.

It was awkward, and strange. Word had gotten back to her through mutual friends that I'd become a Jesus freak, and though she was kind enough not to mention it, the hesitancy in her manner gave her away. We tried to "catch up" on where we were at present. She was married, working. I was still single, (though somewhat married to the church), and working. It wasn't a long conversation. We hung up and more months passed.

Not until she became pregnant, a few years ago, did we start talking on a more semi-regular basis. It came at a time when I was leaving my church and losing all my friends. It was somewhat of a comfort and a temptation to fall back in with a friend who knew me from way-back-when. But I kept my guard up just the same. We met for lunch a few times. We even talked about matters of faith. We talked about her tragic loss of a family member (carefully). We talked about her pregnancy and her new status as Mom-to-be. I kept in touch, calling or e-mailing to inquire about her and the baby.

Fast forward to the present. After keeping in touch and attending her child's birthday parties, she is now thrilled that I'm pregnant and is brimming with all sorts of well-meaning advice. Both of us celebrated our birthdays recently, and we decided to celebrate by meeting at an area salon to get manicures. "Manicures for the Mommies" we billed it. We exchanged small gifts - nothing extravagant - at lunch afterwards. Knowing me as she does, she picked out a very practical gift: tea. It was a whole decaffeinated tea sampler. Wonderful, since it will certainly be put to good use. But as I sniffed at the last box I pulled from the bag, she edged forward eagerly.

"There's one more thing in there" she urged.

I reached in and pulled out a small hard object wrapped loosely in tissue paper. It was smooth to the touch, with two pointy spots. I can only imagine the look on my face when the paper fell away to reveal a very meaty, super-voluptuous fertility goddess.

"Uh...oh!" I said, scrambling for something to say as my brain went tilt, Tilt, TILT.

"It's from Indonesia," she said proudly. "I got it for you at a gift shop while we were on vacation."

"Uh...um. Wow." I stammered. What on earth do I say now? I made a joke about its behind being almost as big as mine, then stuffed it hastily back into the bottom of the bag. If this was some kind of SuperChristian test of my piety and righteousness, I was quite sure I was blowing it big time.

* * *

Driving home that afternoon I was half tempted to chuck the thing out the window. A slideshow of Old Testament scripture clicked and whirled through my brain. An idol! She gave me an idol! I could already hear the lectures on how I should have handled the situation - that I should have given it back to her and explained gently why I couldn't accept it. But in a split-second decision at the lunch table I ruled that out. Did I want her to think I was a afraid of a piece of wood? "Let's be honest," I reasoned with myself. "This thing has about as much power as a Lincoln Log. I know that, God knows that. It poses absolutely no threat to me or to my family. Right?"

I thought briefly about burning it, but immediately felt silly. Again, it has no power, right? Why then would I need to destroy it in such a ritualistic fashion? As I pulled into the driveway, I still contemplated whether or not I should even bring the silly thing in the house. I trudged upstairs, bag in tow. "I don't know what I'm going to do with this," I muttered to myself. "But it is just a piece of wood."

* * *

Now, the banana situation was different. That was different altogether. Of course had I known what was going to happen that night, that it wasn't just a nice little party to celebrate my co-worker's engagement, I might missed out on the rare opportunity that banana provided.

I was flashing back to that night now, several years ago, when I went with several other co-workers to celebrate a colleague's engagement. The couple were Hindu, from India, and had met here in the states in a somewhat more liberal arranged marriage situation. When she first came here to the States all on her own to work at my company, she knew no one and struggled to set up her own apartment. She didn't have a car yet, and had to rely on rides from other Indian male colleagues - not the most comfortable situation for her modesty and propriety. I offered to take her shopping for things she was going to need for life in New England - namely a winter coat, boots, gloves, and other cold-weather stuff that she never had need of before back home. We became friends. She knew I was a Christian, and was a little wary about it. But hanging out with a Christian female was still preferable to being escorted by a single male who was not a member of her family.

She was so excited about her upcoming marriage. Because they were so far from home, she and her fiance arranged to solemnize their engagement at the home of a friend, another Indian colleague who was accepted by their families. She invited some of us from work to attend, and so we did.

I knew I was in trouble when I walked into the family room and beheld a makeshift shrine in what had been a large double-closet. The doors had been removed, and inside the alcove hung dozens of framed pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses. A large statue of somebody, I'm not sure who, sat in the midst, staring dolefully at us. Around the base of the statue were flowers, candles, and many, many little dishes of what looked like the drink garnishes you'd see at a bar - coconut, limes, all sorts of stuff carefully prepared and arranged.

"Oh boy..." I thought to myself. "What have I gotten myself into now?"

To be continued...
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