And then, at the 10:00 service, I got the surprise of my life. Who shows up at my parish, but two visitors. And who are those visitors? My high school gym teacher, now married to the guy who was Dean of Boys and football coach when I was in high school 40 years ago! Amazing. Mrs. Nelson is now Mrs. Jackson. And there they both were. Some things about my high school days:
- I really loved gym class. I was a budding athlete in the days before girls' athletics even got a nod from the school hierarchy. I loved soccer, loved gymnastics, loved track and field, loved girls' basketball. There were no organized girls' sports, but I used to go to class 3 times a week and also attend Girls' Athletic Association (GAA) after school. I was a great basketball player (we played half-court in those days) -- I was little, but I was smart and fast, and could steal a ball, figure out the other players' next moves, and elude them. I loved it. And when I was 4 months pregnant, I could still jump (both standing and running long jump) further than anyone else in my class. I always thought Mrs. Nelson could be a little harsh (she was --duh! -- kind of like a coach), and I hated calisthenics in those awful blue, one-piece gym suits (we used to exercise to a song called, "Go, You Chicken Fat, Go Away!"), but I loved the sports we did, and even adjusted to group showers.
- When I was 15, I got pregnant. I was one of the "good girls" in school, cute and smart and well-liked. But still, I had to leave school for a semester, have a baby, and come back a semester behind the game. When I told the Dean of Girls about my situation, I thought (silly me!) that I was speaking in confidence; by the end of the day, the whole faculty knew about it. It was a time of great shame and humiliation for me, and a time when people didn't hesitate to tell me that I had ruined my life. When I came back after my daughter's birth (a married woman, and couldn't wait to finish school), I took my two required night classes, finished school -- on time -- with grades and scores that qualified me for the National Honor Society, and was still cute, smart, and well-liked. People didn't quite know how to treat me. I was supposed to be a "fallen woman" with a ruined character and a ruined life.
So these two people were witness to my high school career, all the triumph, all the shame, all the gossip. As it turns out, they were friends of a parishioner couple who had moved here from Florida (we call these folks "half-backs" -- they moved south, then came "half-back" because they missed the change of seasons, or got tired of hurricanes, etc.).
It was lovely to see them. They were great. I told them I bet they were surprised to see me as a priest! We all laughed about that, because I'm really as surprised as they must be. But they both hugged me and told me they were proud of me, and that felt really good. Somehow it felt like some kind of healing from way, way back in my past. I was so glad it was a day when I think I preached well. I was glad it was a day when I struck what felt like the perfect note between religion and patriotism (Memorial Day Sunday, and all that). It was a day I felt good about what I did, and a day I was proud to have them there. What a lovely surprise, and it made my day, I must admit.