Church Optional for Angels


Missus likes to spend a couple of hours at the bathhouse and sauna near our apartment after her sessions on the treadmill, or of housework. When she returned from today’s dip, she was in better spirits than she had been for several days of menopause bullying her with chemical warfare. When it isn’t crowded there, she relaxes between dips in the pools, unavoidably eavesdropping on the small but voluble conversations carried on within and between groups of 2-3 neighbor women. She does so uncriticallyt, but without joining in, which is an atypical behavior learned from the experience of being the spouse of a foreigner. It has transformed her into a substantially private person who resents the prying of gossipy strangers.

Today, her attention was captured as she relaxed, by the sight of a woman of about her own age who, partially paralyzed, moved centimeter by slow centimeter, one foot not quite all the way in front of the other, as she made her way along the wall of the common area between the pools and the sauna. Others present politely ignored the unfortunate one as they took turns broadcasting the minutest details, their lives, reporting the affairs of their respective places of worship, mostly Christian. This banter proceeds at the same time as individuals take turns vigorously scrubbing anothers’ difficult-to-reach areas, keeping faith with a time-honored local custom.

Returning from the steam room, Missus realized that the woman whose slow-motion tour of the facility she had been observing was, like herself, alone in the place, and would clearly require some assistance if she was ever to satisfactorily complete her bath, as she was incapable of performing for herself the ablutions routinely shared among the twosomes and threesomes of bathers.

Her offer of assistance being accepted, Missus started in with a minimum of fanfare to deftly scrub the frail and paralytic woman’s skin, following up with a shampoo and rinse of her hair. Having done with that, she asked if there was any additional help she might give the grateful woman, who acknowledged quietly that it would be impossible for her to don her undergarments unassisted.

That done, Missus dressed herself and was about to leave, when she felt a small tug at her sleeve. Eyes sparkling, the grateful woman told her that she felt she had been visited by an angel today, asking “Do you go to church?”

“No”, replied the angel, “I don’t.”

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