We’re a forgiving bunch at my church, which is not only what the pastor keeps telling us we’re called to be — it’s exactly what I need.
I showed that a few months after my family started attending services there, when I introduced myself to a woman who, it turns out, I’d already met a few times before.
She forgave my forgetfulness, gave me her name once again and, slate clean, even let me write it down when it fell on me to round up volunteers for some church work a little while later.
I must not be alone in my need for forgiveness of that particular fault in those halls. The other Sunday, the pastor told us all to greet each other and just admit we needed another introduction if we’d forgotten the name of someone we worship next to week after week.
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That put me in mind of the most uncomfortable 10 seconds I ever spent in song.
It came when I was hunting elk with my brother and some cousins in a Colorado valley one mild autumn some years back.
Now, when I say “hunting,” know that I mean it in the sense of “trying desperately to find something” rather than “stalking an animal to kill.” But English being a slippery tongue, I get to call it a hunting trip even though we only ever saw one elk in the wild, and that one on the side of the highway as we drove home empty-handed.
This, despite the fact that one of my cousins on the outing regularly guides hunters in that area, and the contents of his freezer testify to his skill. The year in question, though, you could begin to feel the climate shifting, and the snowfall that should have driven elk down the mountain to us hadn’t arrived, and gave no sign of being on the way.
So our little hunting party rose early every morning to move quietly through woods empty of big game, broke for lunches of last season’s elk and the occasional fresh grouse tacos, and then looked for ways to fill our evenings.
And that’s how we wound up at the home of distant relatives on my dad’s side one night around dinner.
Our guide knew the couple well as family he could turn to for company in those sparsely populated parts. My brother and I, on the other hand, hadn’t seen them since we were little boys. The husband’s name had come up in stories on that trip, but his wife’s was far beyond our recall.
The rest of our group were relations from my mom’s side who had never before set foot in that part of the country, and would therefore be no help at all in extricating us from the short, slow-motion disaster that my brother was about to set rolling.
“It’s good of you to come by,” the husband said as we stepped into a little house thick with the sweet smell and heavy heat of piñon burning in the wood heater. He nodded toward his wife. “We’re celebrating her birthday.”
And as if he were a singing telegram just waiting for the cue, my brother burst without warning into a raucous delivery of “Happy Birthday.”
Unthinking, the rest of us caught up with him around the first “to you!” and almost immediately began looking to each other, desperate for a lifeline that might yank us from the train wreck we all saw coming.
But we were doomed men.
“Happy birthday, dear (indistinct gruff mumbling)! Happy birthday to you!”
“My name’s Elsie,” the birthday girl laughed, as we guys all turned to yell at my brother.
Elsie’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I hope someone brings her a good elk dinner and a big stack of wood for her heater, and that any singers that cross her threshold have the decency to pause for an introduction before they belt out their good wishes.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.