In the cavernous, flourscently-lit gymnasium Mormons call their Cultural Halls I set out to complete my first task of my new church calling: to decorate for the women's Christmas dinner.
The night before I was phoning my mother, a decorating genius, with a natural-born stylistic flare that inspires and humbles me. It's the one thing I know I will never surpass her in, even if generation refinement were a thing of absolute evolution. As far as my posterity, I'm sure we'll again never see such a brilliant designer of ambiance.
"What do I do make it look somehow lovely?" I asked.
"Fresh poinsettias," she replied.
"I think I saw some at the pulpit during church last Sunday, I'll just use those." I said with a hope.
But when I got to the church I quickly realized they weren't fresh, they were fabric. Faux. Fake. My mother would've never....but time wasn't sliding by slowly and the budget wasn't budging so, I had to use what I had at hand.
With a team consisting of my dear friend and neighbor Janna and my husband Christopher, we dressed the tables in white, topped each with a poinsettia, a water vase and a bit of red ribbon. I commissioned Christopher to drape a garland with white lights and a big red bow above the serving table. I played with all the overhead light features so the gym looked somewhat cozy, less like a place where sweaty men smothered swearwords while playing hoops and more like an event space for cultured people. When everything was done we turned off all the lights, locked the doors, and promised to come back in a few hours for the party.
"The first to arrive are the widows," someone told me a few days before. "They will show up together in a carpool. It'll be icy outside, so you'll want to make sure they get in the church safely."
True to tradition, the widows were first seated at our tables. They came in holding each other, shuffling at a snailish speed. As I arranged the plates at the serving table I heard two of them speaking to each other--Maxine who was robbed of eyesight by old age and Helen her ninety-something next door neighbor.
"Tell me what it looks like in here," Maxine said to Helen, leaning in close to her friend.
"Well, there are poinsettias on every table, and red ribbon, and there's a garland above us with white lights..." Helen described as her wide eyes darted about the room.
And for a moment I sat there watching them, eavesdropping on their conversation, as they leaned in towards one another, their snowy heads almost touching, wrinkled ears listening.
After the party was over, an unexpected success that required more tables and chairs (and more fetching of fake poinsettas) than we had planned for, I thought about Helen and Maxine as we cleaned up.
That scene, that intimate moment between two friends who had shared a lifetime together side-by-side raising kids, loving husbands, trying new ideas, wearing old clothes, eating each other's meals, holding up one another's faith in tragedy and triumph, happily dedicated to a belief system that sustained them, that little conversation had impressed on me a hope for my own Mormon future.
And if I play my cards right, learn to let go of my prejudices and pride--the silly voice of insecurity that tells me things like fake poinsettias really mean I'm a drab, tacky person, or that my political (or whatever) views are more correct, or my enlightenment trumps kindness, or my problems surpass those around me, or that this religion is about anything other than learning to feel and know charity (the pure love of Christ), I might just have a chance.
Later my mom called me to see how things went.
"Well, the poinsettias were fake," I started.
"That doesn't matter," my mother said.
And I believed her.