You know how every now and then you commit a social gaffe, and it reminds you to be more cautious in the future? This happens to me more or less constantly, as I am one of the most socially dense people on Earth. I can walk into a situation fraught with tension, utterly misread it, and defuse it by accident by being so obtuse as to utterly miss whatever was going on. I’m kind of like a kitten that way. But it does make me dangerous to let out unsupervised, as I tend to leave a trail of havoc in my wake.
Today, I almost committed a classic social gaffe–the good old fashioned prayer interruption.
Now, depending on how one communes with God, being interrupted at prayer by a visitor might not be a huge issue. But, for others, it might be deeply offensive. Even Hamlet had difficulties with the idea of interrupting someone during prayer. But as a general rule, I try not to interrupt people when they are communing with the higher power of their choice–I view prayer as sacred, although I don’t do much of it myself.
So here I am, merrily traipsing down the street with a loaf of bread for my father’s girlfriend, listening to “Mercy” on the old portable music playing device, with a bag of library books over my shoulder. And I duly charged up to her front door, and was about to commence banging on it when I smelt the joss burning and heard Buddhist chants. I paused for a moment, not knowing Chinese, and not being sure when her period of prayer might end. The joss smelled wonderful in the growing breeze, and I was lulled by the sounds of her somewhat nasal chanting. The sun was still out, warming my back, and a strange trick of the wind made it seem as though we were the only two people in the world.
Now, might I add that this is almost as uncomfortable as interrupting someone at prayer. I felt like a voyeur, skulking on her doorstep with a loaf of whole wheat, listening to her chanting. The bread was starting to warm in the bag, seeing as how I was standing in the sun, and the scent of fresh baked bread was mingling with the joss in a not unpleasant way. After about thirty seconds of this, though, I felt like a criminal, so I slipped the bread onto her doorstep and fled into the increasingly cloudy day.
I have yet to see anyone with ashes on their forehead today, despite my perambulation in the sunshine.