I am eating an egg and thinking about all those women.
There is something about eggs and salt that conjures communion for me*; they seem particularly appropriate in light of last Saturday when I sat with sisters, each holding an eternal potential for life and covenant.
Everything about the evening is crowded: the train into Salt Lake with women waiting at every stop; the entry lines humming with calls of greeting, gathering, and the occasional gossip; the plush seats set close together, a subtle wheat pattern woven into burgundy cloth; the women spilling out of the conference center, lining balconies and thronging stairways, a fluid body of Christ; and a train ride home that felt particularly packed. Normally such proximity to that many women makes me vaguely uncomfortable. I’m not certain where I fit in and I am certain that I did not appy enough makeup and/or hairspray to qualify for sisterhood. But then again, everyone feels this way (I have discovered through asking) and so I have been shushing those voices of late. I am not always entirely successful.
I glance down my row. Every sister listening earnestly and content. On the surface these women appeared to play the part, to fit the mold, to embody Relief Society-ness itself. Bev in her quilted vest with matching skirt, Karlene with her pouffed white hair, Jamie in her smart suit coat and scarf, Amy with her tired feeding-a-three-month-old eyes, Darlene in crushed red velvet with matching lipstick, Julie carrying an embroidered scripture case…. I look closer. Bev’s children are grown and her husband no longer attends; Karlene’s son is a bishopâ€”her husband’s smoking keeps him from church; Jamie works two jobs and coordinates enrichment, but she attends church alone; Amy introduces herself as inactive; Darlene speaks to me of questions while her husband heads off to the baptistry; Julie I do not know well and cannot claim any intimacy.
As we ride home, standing close and sweating on an overcrowded train car, I experience a similar double vision: I see The Relief Society in all her stereotypical glory and yet simultaneously I see the woman who ran a marathon, the woman who slides over to share her seat, the woman expecting, the woman hugging, the woman reading, the woman mother with her woman daughter, the women whose children are married to each other weaving through the other women in the car so that they can joy with laughter and warm embraces over recent newsâ€”a new grandchild is coming….
And so if you ask me what I heard at the general Relief Society meeting this past weeked I can tell you about talks and the Teichert painting along with a colorful choir and a dear loving prophet who speaks to women in spite of the pain of personal loss. If you ask me what I learned, what the Spirit taught me, I will instead reflect on a personal vision of grace: women encircled and encircling in charity. The scent of the communing souls, sharp with salt, lingers long after the crowded train ride ends.
When I reach home that night I send my husband to the store for Sabbath supplies: milk, grapes, and more eggs.
*This comes from too much reading. I found the passage that first constructed this association for me if anyone is interested: “Armenians, I read, salt their newborn babies. I check somewhere else: so did the Jews…. When God promised to Aaron and all the Levites all the offerings Israel made to God … he said of this promise, ‘It is a covenant of salt forever.’ … I salt my breakfast eggs. All day long I feel created.” (Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm p. 24-25)