ROCKWALL, TX – August 24, 2020 —“Scott Gill is speaking? I can’t stand him; he speaks so nasally!” And with that Mrs. Annabelle stormed out of church. She truly hated me, would sometimes come up during the week and chat with the church secretary and ask “Why is he even here?”
Years ago I worked as a youth pastor; most of the church seemed to like me, except for Mrs. Annabelle. Honestly, the feeling was mutual. I had always gotten along with folks of all ages, but Mrs. Annabelle was hard to stomach, the antithesis of the sweet little grandma; I’d never met a woman so mean.
But one day she interrupted a church staff meeting, hunched over and holding her mangled arm. She’d broke it while falling outside her home and drove herself 30 minutes to the church. She needed someone to take her the final leg to the hospital. The other ministers looked at me and smiled (they shared my sentiment) and I reluctantly volunteered. I helped her in my little pickup and drove the lady that loathed me to the hospital.
Through the pain, she apologized for being a bother. I assured her it was okay and I actually attempted to avoid potholes. Once arriving, I’d need to stay with Mrs. Annabelle until her daughter arrived.
Empathizing with her pain, I listened as she shared her life story. Soon her daughter showed and Mrs. Annabelle got the help she needed. At church the next weekend she gave me a hug and told me how much she appreciated me. Each Sunday after that, I continued to get that hug and as we planned to move to Texas, Mrs. Annabelle gave generously to help with costs.
I’ll never be able to tell you why Mrs. Annabelle didn’t like me at first, yet once we got to know one another, we became friends. It just took a moment where we had to treat each other like fellow human beings that helped us overcome our mutual dislike.
I had a college professor who hated the idea of paying at the gas pump. Folks once gassed up where they knew the fella that pumped the gas and cleaned the windows. My professor said we were heading to a world where, because of technology, we’d no longer communicate, we’d no longer connect with one another. He described paying at the pump as a harbinger of a time where common relationships and decency would cease to exist.
Think of how much we can do without being around others: we shop online, have groceries delivered, use telehealth, and meet our co-workers on Zoom. And now with COVID, we’ve social-distanced personal touch completely out of our lives. And you see the affects, just visit Facebook and count how many friends you’ve lost. Observe the daily posts and the subsequent nasty responses. I’m afraid in our progress as humans and our fear of human sickness, we’ve stopped being human.
Saying we need a Mrs. Annabelle moment is an understatement. Joining someone for a cup of coffee and a talk sounds crazy to some during this time of infection, but I wonder for the sake of sanity and common humanity if it’s not worth some risk. Sit apart, don a mask, or at the very least Zoom, but we gotta get to know each other again so we can understand each rather than hurling insults behind our profiles.
Folks had told me years ago about Mrs. Annabelle, “You should’ve met her before she met Jesus,” and I’m glad I hadn’t. She ran a bar and had to be tough with roughnecks. Eventually, she found religion and softened (that was a relative term), and knowing that gave me perspective, she became human to me. And after I drove her to the hospital, she learned I just wasn’t some young punk.
I hate it took a broken arm to bring us together but often that’s what tough times do. So as we head into more uncertain waters this fall (go to school or not? in-person classes or not?), maybe some human touch could be helpful, at the very least an “air five” or a risky “fist bump.” I think if we do that to some safe extent, we’ll find life during a pandemic is not so bleak, and that the Mrs. Annabelles in our world are so bad after all.
By Blue Ribbon News contributing writer Scott Gill, 8th Grade English, Language Arts, Reading Boys Coach J.W. Williams Middle School.
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