MetFridays: Clara

Last night at the Met, I met Clara.

MetFridays, they call it, “where old farts go to pick up chicks”, I add.

Whatever. I’m a winner. I can tell my therapist, next Tuesday that I did that thing I talked about doing. The one that’s better than staying at home when you’re single and you want to meet new people. Online dating sucks. Everybody knows that. Especially when you’re over 40. Soon, I’ll be 50. I’m not sad about it, aging. 6 months ago I was swept away in a flash flood in Texas and nearly drowned in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, alone. Since then, I care almost zilch now about my middle-aged weight gain, and sagging chin line, but I care more than ever about the quality of people, and connections in my life.

I can go it alone, if I have to, but I don’t want to. I want a life partner, and from what I can tell, there’s still time, there’s still hope. I’m going to try.

I check my coat, and pay my admission. The ticket seller is kind of cute, and he’s friendly, but he’s too young for me. I’m open-minded, but I prefer someone close to my own age. I think.

I love the museum. So, even if I don’t meet anyone, it’s a great place to hang out, and I won’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.

I’m also looking for friends. A divorce, an empty nest, and some rather shocking upheavals in the so-called friendship department, have left me open to any human being who is friendly and open to me. I need to meet new people.

I first see Clara from across the Medieval Sculpture Hall, Gallery 305, a large open space with a Christmas tree in the center, and a Gregorian chant on the sound system. It’s the woman Clara’s with, that I notice first, a woman in a red sweater. Later, we’re all standing next to each other, a statue of the virgin mother and child before us. The colors are earthy, and supernatural at the same time. Wood with gold paint. “Catholics had more of that” Clara says, grabbing my attention, peaking my curiosity. I teeter on the verge of joining the conversation, but I want to be polite. Clara seems open, but the woman in the red sweater, not so much. Some people are more private, I suppose. Clara says something else to the other woman, who doesn’t respond, then approaches me. The other woman drifts away.

Clara and I talk about the difference between Catholics and Protestants, and then we talk a lot about Clara. Clara is 74 years old, and a First Southern Baptist, from Southern Illinois. Her husband left her twice, but came back, thanks to the power of Clara “standing in prayer” with her women friends. She had a prophetic dream the second time. So, she’s a believer. She says that of course, it doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to Christians, or that prayers will always be answered the way you want them to be. I know what she means. I have a spiritual practice, and I feel the same way. I don’t mention meditation, or gurus to Clara. I don’t want to scare her away. I like talking to her, and I want to know more about her.

Clara says that she can speak in tongues. I wouldn’t have guessed it. She’s a proper looking little white lady, with bright blue eyes, and soft grey hair. She also says that she believes once saved, always saved. Apparently, that’s different from other Baptists. Who knew? I was barely schooled in my own religion. She tells me that seizures have wiped out most of her memories. She doesn’t remember raising her kids. She doesn’t remember most of her childhood. She doesn’t even remember most of her marriage, but she remembers standing in prayer. She remembers feeling that God was guiding her life.

I think of my near drowning. I felt guided then, too, but I don’t mention that to Clara either.

I prefer talking to people who don’t know about it. It’s easier.

Clara tells me her daughter is gay. That was the woman in the red sweater. Clara’s in New York to visit her daughter. It’s hard, she says. The Bible declares that being gay is an abomination before the Lord. I ask if she thinks her daughter has a choice about being gay. She thinks it might be a reaction to her husband’s deserting them. I tell Clara that my father left me. I have anger about it, and I’m still a heterosexual. So, maybe not.

She tells me her daughter’s, also “gone Jewish”. I can see the genuine hurt, and concern, in Clara’s face. This is worse than being gay, it seems, rejecting Jesus. The daughter’s partner is Jewish, and apparently, Clara’s just learned, the both of them are in therapy, somehow adding to the list of sins. “Is therapy an abomination before the Lord?”, I ask myself. “Can’t you believe in God, and go to therapy?” I ask Clara. She says she just doesn’t think that therapy is where the answers lie. I know what she means. I offer that maybe the women who prayed with her were like her therapist. Human support. She considers it.

Clara asks about me. I give her the basics. I tell her I’d like to meet a nice man, someone who has a grip on their own mortality, and is looking for a mate to grow old with. No more hook ups. Time is running out. I leave out the therapy.

I ask if her husband has been good to her since his second coming. She says he has. He takes good care of her, and helps with accommodations re her seizures. I can see that she values him. So, that’s something.

I tell her again that I think she’s doing great (in spite of the Bible). I don’t say the second part, of course, but I do admire her courage. She’s been through a lot. Now, she’s in New York City with her Jewish Lesbian daughter who is in therapy, and she’s still a devoted First Southern Baptist.

Love was Jesus’ main teaching, after all. We agree on that.

Maybe Clara thinks she is ministering to me. Maybe she is. Maybe we are ministering to each other. It’s sure nice to talk with someone who is so open about her life.

She knows she will never see me again.

I say goodbye, and good luck, and she wishes me the same.

“What’s your name?” she asks me. “Honor” I say, “and you?”

“Clara”, she says with a smile.

“I hope you find a nice man you can grow old with”, she adds.

Amen to that.


About honor finnegan

I'm a singer-songwriter, storyteller, and essayist. Also, a special education itinerant pre-k teacher, Heartfulness meditation trainer, and New Yorker.
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