So, on Friday I skipped along to a soundtrack called: I just quit my job to travel the world and help people.
I had the windows down, my sunglasses on in the rain, twirled through the parking lot to my car, and took myself out for a pretend New York slice and a diet coke at JP. It just so happened that, due to weather, the entire oldies cover band and die-hard Friday-Nite-Live attendees were packed into the food court shoulder to shoulder, and I had to push my way to the Enzo counter. I had worn my favorite outfit to Brunch earlier in the day—my wide leg, double lined, crispy white Ann Taylor pants, a striped tank and heels—in honor of my last day of work, and nearly winked at myself when I caught a glance in an empty storefront window. It was just that kind of outfit, just that kind of a day, just that kind of a soundtrack in my mind.
I ordered my dollar-fifty slice and diet coke, paid, slid my tray down the counter, and reached over for a straw and some napkins. I still don’t totally understand how this happened, but I heard a familiar crash, like the sound of a tray hitting the floor, and turned in time to watch my diet coke fly through the air and the pizza slide down my crispy white pants. It was an eighth grade cafeteria moment. No one even stopped. They all just pushed past me, and I stood there with my hands over my mouth.
I emptied my entire wallet into the cashier’s tip jar while the nice man behind the counter said, “It’s okay, it’s okay. You owe me, okay? You owe me. You come back.” He gave me a new tray with a new slice and a new coke and told me to hold onto it. I said thank you and took my tray out to the patio to eat alone. (I had really wanted to take the pizza to go, but I couldn’t think clearly and just walked outside where there were less people to stare at my red streaked pants.) I sat outside on the patio and ate my pizza with enough sense to laugh at myself and take a breather.
I was too embarrassed to walk back through the food court, so I decided to cut through Barnes and Nobles instead, not realizing there was a DOUBLE BOOK SIGNING right in front of the parking lot doors! This time, there was no pushing. People just stared and parted as I walked through the store covered in pizza and diet coke.
As I write, the pants have been through the wash three times and have soaked in Oxy-Clean and Shout between washes for two days. The stain is now light orange.
In the meantime, I curled up on the couch with my laptop and a pile of books trying to trick myself into being sleepy, and somehow—again, don’t totally understand how this happened—I shifted positions and hit myself in the eye with the laptop. I woke up on Saturday morning with a black eye.
Since my day involved lots of public places, including the headphone station at the Step Into Africa exhibit where I would be meeting lots of new people, I tried to cover it with concealer, reflective powder and bronzer. I ended up with a glittery mess. Like, Senora Barker style. For the first half of the morning, people asked, “What happened?” and I answered, “Oh, I just hit myself in the eye with my computer.” And they looked at me like, Suuuuuuuure. We’ll be praying for you and your boyfriend.
Who hits herself in the eye with a laptop?
When I came home from the exhibit, I opened my mail and found a summary of benefits from my insurance company denying all of my shots and malaria medicine—$400! And an e-mail from my team leader asking us to bring all of our donated school supplies, t-shirts and luggage bags—none of which I have received in donations—to the meeting on Sunday.
I don’t know if it was the pizza stain and black-eye talking, or a delayed emotional reaction to quitting my job, or even, in that second, absorbing the reality of international medications and insurance and the costs associated, but I was so angry—for quitting my job, for moving my belongings into a trunk and sleeping on the couch, for ruining my white pants, for not working harder to gather school supplies and suitcase donations, for not saving more money when I had the chance. I felt cramped and stir crazy in our tiny apartment, my back hurt, my clothes were all over the place, my books and sweatshirts were in boxes at my dads, possibly being pawned by my brother, along with my most favorite purses and shoes and fall clothes.
For a moment, I thought I may have ruined my life.
I stayed up all night worrying about the shots and malaria pills and sat up this morning with the same heavy heart and embarrassing (if not totally confusing) despair. Three days ago I was so excited. It just didn’t make any sense.
I picked up a pair of sweatpants (they were the cute wide-leg kind) and a t-shirt (a UNICEF one) off the floor and forced myself to go to church. After all, the Jenbe ensemble was leading today in honor of the Step into Africa experience and we were having church in a tent in the parking lot.
I walked in totally sleepy-eyed and made my way to the third row, where my friends always sit, and didn’t even tap my fingers to the drums, which is unusual for me. Sprinky kept passing me notes asking if I was okay, and I kept passing her notes back listing all the reasons I was not okay, one of which was that my ex-boyfriend and his wife were sitting directly behind me, and I just knew I looked ugly. (Side note: Why do we run into ex-boyfriends when we’ve stayed up all night, downed 6 coffees and dragged ourselves to church in yesterday’s sweatpants?)
It crossed my mind to get up and leave, but where would I go? Wherever I went, there I would be. So I stayed put and made the decision to open my mouth and sing African praise songs in spite of myself. Two seconds later, my fingers were tapping the chair and my knees were sort of swaying to the beat. Then I smiled, but just a little. When the worship leader got up, he read a verse that moved him to tears, Matthew 25:35, about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and looking after the sick, and how if we do this for the least of these, our brothers, we do it for Christ. He also said, as did a team member in my Belize meeting later: How we love others is how we love Jesus.
It came back to me then, the three or four times last week I completely ignored someone who walked past me in the parking lot, bitter over something that had built up over time, even though it crossed my mind to just put my hand up—a little wave, a smile—to say, hey, it’s all good. But I couldn’t bring myself to love that much, and it was a decision, not an accident.
I thought about how I wanted to stockpile all my money and clothes and keep everything for myself, and how the thought of my brother pawning my good pants for a couple bucks at Playto’s closet, or my favorite sweatshirt not being accessible to me throughout the fall, or my last paycheck dwindling away towards potential air-evac insurance—how those things took hold of my heart and made fear win. I thought about the exhibit I walked though on Saturday, and how these four real-life little children and their families are dying of AIDS, and how we are only separated by an ocean and the grace of God. How Babirye could have been me, and how none of these stupid belongings are even mine to begin with—not my couch or my clothes, not my job or my money or anything. They’re gifts. They’re resources to give back, tools to spread love (and healthcare, I believe) to others.
I just wanted to just sit down on the metal chair with my face in my hands and cry. But the man up front said I have to just take one step forward. One step, and God will show me the next one, and then the next one, and the next one. So I decided to give it a step, and trust that the next one would come when it was supposed to.
I also decided, even though he has completely ignored me the last two times I tried to talk to him in public (which was really embarrassing), to smile at the ex and his wife, and to wave and say hello instead of pretending they weren’t there, because how we love others is how we love God. Today, at least, I could make that choice.
This evening I found short-term international health insurance through Anthem for $60 a month and a surplus in donations to pay for my some of my shots. My grandma donated two pieces of luggage for myself and another team member. My black eye is almost gone, except for a little knot in the corner. And the pants? Well, they’re just pants.