Thursday, June 3, 2010


In a world filled with strangers who rarely speak to one another, the rainbow covering is a powerful message. It apparently says, "speak to me".

9:30 p.m. Home Depot is closing in 1/2 hour but there's time for me to drive across town to the "big box" district where I rarely go, to get parts to replumb the basement sink so I can wash dishes (ah, the little things in life!). I do a seasonal migration among the various hardware venues: the closer they are to home, the earlier they close. The later it's light enough to work outside on the farm, the later I am heading "across the bridge" at dark-thirty-five to get parts for the late-night home repair project, or tomorrow's morning effort. Winter, Ernst, 5:30 or 6. Early spring, Cottin's, 8?. Late spring and days I drive the bus, Westlake, 9.

Closing in on Summer Solstice, Home Depot, 10.

I never expect to see anyone I know there. My friends tend to shop I also prefer, but lack of plumbing warrants an exception. So I don't expect to be greeted by other customers. But as I turn down the plumbing aisle, I hear a cheerful "hi".

Startled, I look around. A young man in plain dress, German Baptist style, is coming out the next aisle. I recognize the clothes but not the man; I'm poor at recalling names and faces, and I tend to visit with the women at church. A few of the older men shake hands and chat for a minute after the services, but the young mens' attention tends to be on the young women of the faith, not the older outsider. As it should be.

In Home Depot, however, he has been pleased enough to see me that he says "hi" and gives a big grin. Then we both seem to realize that we don't know what to say to one another, AND we would neither of us be here at 9:30 if we weren't here for something critical to the next morning's work. We are both a bit alien to the world of this enormous store that caters to those who care about decorating their homes with the latest in stylish vanities...designed for two basins, his and hers, so they can primp without bumping elbows.

I am pleased to learn that I rate a greeting from him here.

After my search for plumbing parts, I need one last item. Running out of time, I hail a young "associate" or whatever Home Depot calls them. He's about the same age and build as the young German Baptist fellow. He efficiently guides me to the desired item, we joke a bit finding the right size, I'm turning to walk away....

"Wait," he quietly asks. I stop, puzzled. This IS the item I needed, isn't it?

"Can I ask a silly question?" How often I hear that phrase, and it's always about the covering! "There's no silly question, go ahead," I reassure him. At this point you know that they are thinking that they are blushing and they are ashamed of it and they are wishing they hadn't been quite so brave after all, to be in this embarrassing situation of asking a total stranger (and a customer no less, in this case) to satisfy their curiosity. A curiosity that is somehow embarrassing to admit, like when my sisters and I first started admitting to one another that we liked boys.

"Your..." and he points to his own head, not having language to name the thing he is seeing.

"Covering," I prompt.

"Your covering...does that color mean something?"

"It means a lot of things." I don't feel led, at 9:55 p.m., to embarrass him further by coming out to him. Maybe he's gay himself, and wants to come out to me, but my "gaydar" is dead silent here. If he knows what rainbow means, he'll get it. If not, he'll figure it out someday.

I give the first answer, the answer that led to the choice of color. "Among other things, it means that I'm not a member of a particular church or community. I don't want to mislead anyone." And I continue with Anabaptist History 101, Intro to Sects, Cliff Notes version. He knows of Amish and Mennonite, but not German Baptist, even though the GBs are the only plain folk in this county. So I know he's from out of town.

Plain dress styles not only indicate where the wearer is from, sometimes they indicate where the viewer is not from!

In today's vain, consumerist world, I think it is a terribly powerful statement of faith to dress according to one's faith, in defiance of the dominant culture. To proclaim to strangers, as well as friends: I believe something. I have given up things you hold dear for something that I hold dear.

To witness, quite simply, to the possibility of faith.

If someone sees me, speaks to me, then that might be the "tiny seed" that begins their own miracle. They would not ask about the covering if it didn't hold some fascination for them, something that they don't understand, but something that draws them like a candle draws a moth. I understand this well, because even as a child I was fascinated by the Amish, more than just seeing their beautiful horses and buggies. But there was no one available to answer my silly questions.

The covering is a candle set high on a candlestick for all to see. All you of faith, who do not show it in your dress: consider whether you have lit a lamp and hidden it under a bushel.

No comments:

Post a Comment