by Sara Olson
She heard them laughing, laughing and singing and celebrating. Despite the rain and the wind and the distance between them all, the young woman heard them laughing and she was amazed. She stopped still in her tracks and listened. Yes - it was definitely laughter. And she was a bit angry- there shouldn't be laughter. Not at a time like this- not when she felt so terrible. There she was out walking through the rain – the winds of autumn bringing the waves of memories- memories of her father and his long time in the hospital, the last days they had together, of the last time they ate his favorite banana cream pie together before he died. Autumn brought with it these memories and so this young woman took a walk. She wrapped herself up in her scarf- the scarf crocheted by her mom as they sat in the hospital- a wide scarf big enough to cover her grief- a shroud to hide in her struggle. She wrapped herself up in her scarf and took a walk through the cold rain as her tears, as big as drops, got mixed with the rain. Tears of grief, tears of despair for this world, the unknown of her life. The melancholy of the rain matching the rhythms of her heart.
And into this gray sad scene burst their laughter- roars of it and the young woman couldn't escape it, she couldn't believe that at a time like this anyone could possibly be laughing… but they were- and with pure joy. This joy she could just sense, even through the rain as she heard them laughing. And in her anger and curiosity- she followed it- followed the laughter until she found the light coming from the window and she peeked in- not wanting to be seen, but so curious about the laughter, the giggles, the hilarity.
When she peeked around the window- she saw a huge round wooden table , about two feet high– and around the table dozens of tiny brightly colored chairs – sitting empty for the time being, but on the table were stacks of plates- cups- silverware- the table ready to be set … and on the other side of the room- she saw the source of the laughter. There in the wide open expanse of the room was a group of children, all surrounding a very old woman. The old woman sat on a small footstool and the children were around her, each struggling and excitedly hoping to be the next one in line. And as the children would reach her they would whisper something into her ear- and then she would stand up- and act like an animal. First the young woman saw her with bent over with her arm in front of her like a trunk- an elephant- and than she was a monkey, a giraffe. How silly this old lady was. And both She and the children could not stop laughing – as all the children joined her in this strange animal dance.
The young woman watched through with judgment and her own sadness as they made fish faces and swam around the room- and as the Old Woman was paddling her arms- she saw her- peaking in through the window. And the old woman smiled. And whispered something to the little boy who was an octopus next to her and the little boy ran out to woman, into the rain and grabbed her hand pulled her in the door. The old woman greeted her. She put her hand to the sad woman's face- wet with tears and rain- and looked into her eyes and said, "you are just in time for the feast."
The woman protested of course, telling Her that she wasn't really hungry, that that she was really enjoying the walk, she had someplace she had to be and finally the woman just sighed and with tears that came flowing out said "I can't really be a part of all this- I just don't have that kind of laughter in me - I'm just a bit too sad for all this. I'm just not quite ready. You do know that as you are all laughing the world is falling apart, my world is falling apart."
"I know," the old woman said, "but we need a tablecloth."
She took the hospital crocheted scarf that the young woman had hidden in, cried in and struggled in and she unwrapped her- took the scarf and dried the sad tear streaked face with it – and shook it out just enough to get some of the wrinkles off and brought it to the table. And the children smoothed it out and began to set out the place settings- chipped and bright plates with mismatched cups, small plastics spoons and long silver forks. The chairs were spread out and the children each sat into theirs and the same little boy who had greeted the woman led her to a chair next to him- well- next to his dinosaur next to him. ("I know he looks scary," he said, "but don't worry, his name is Cuddles" smiling.) And the young woman sat down, with her knees up to her ears in the little chair.
In her folded over spot, she watched the old woman as she danced with the children as they set the table, listening to carefully their incoherent stories. And soon the woman was on her way to a chair amidst the kids. How is the old lady going to do this? The young woman thought, her own legs already cramping. The children were all quiet but restless, anticipating the food and knowing this was a precious moment. And the old woman made her way over- seeing that everything was in place and eased her way down on her little chair. As she sat, there was a long gross noise of a particular bodily function and all the kids burst into laughter- and so did the old woman- she reached down- pulled out a whoopee cushion and laughed, "you do this every time! How come I never remember" "Oh you remember!" the kids cried "you just think it's funny too!"
The young woman sat- so confused, so disoriented – it was all so strange- this seemingly holy moment – interrupted by a fake fart- and her scarf placed in the middle of the table – gathered with the dishes. And there was not a bit of food in sight.
The laughter quickly died down as the children began to pray, all sorts of prayers about all sorts of stuff – prayers that were happy, sad, silly, hopeful despairing. The young woman kept peeking throughout the prayers- peeking at the children as they laughed and wiggled and cried- peeked as they caught her peeking at them- and feeling caught in their prayer. And one of them said, "thank you for bringing this sad woman to our feast and for her tears, oh and that you for her scarf to add to our table."
At the end of the prayers she looked at the old woman with tears in her eyes…and the old woman looked at her and each of the children- in their laughter and their tears and their wonder and said, "this is the feast- this is the life I have promised to you- full of abundance – full of tears and laughter- your whole selves fully here- all at once- life and death- sadness and joy- whoopee cushions and crocheted scarves- all of this at my table. All of you – all parts of you-You are welcome."
The young woman took a deep breath, "all of me? Okay," she thought. "I'll do it. My shroud is now a tablecloth at this crazy feast- this Wise One has given me a place where my tears can flow and be swallowed up her care- in laughter- all together, maybe I could live and rejoice and be glad- even in my tears." Courageously, she picked up her spoon and looked at the empty plate in front of her but there was no food. All the kids were eating, but she still couldn't see it. She still couldn't imagine it.
And the little boy next to her said, "sometimes you just have to play at it. Pretend yourself into being. This place- at Her table is a place where we can imagine it and its real" Then he smiled at the young woman next to him "and here- we can eat only desert if we want to- here have some pie." And he motioned some food onto her plate.
She looked from the sparkling brown eyes of this boy to her plate. And there in front of her was a slice of banana cream pie. She smiled as she thought of her dad and tears came to her eyes. The little boy next to her looked up at her, and smiled – his hands and face covered with whipped cream. He reached up to her- all gooey- and wiped away her tears. And the woman started to laugh, to laugh and cry, covered by the abundance of this feast of life, a rich feast- of tears, of laughter, of the fullness of life.