When I was in my 20s and my friend Naomi was in her 30s, we decided that I could stay with her in Greenville, Ohio for the summer. I was dying to write about her and her family, because I wanted to know more about their way of life. Naomi wore skirts and a black head covering that looked like a doily. Most of her family made granola, preserves and meals from scratch. Naomi read frequently, listened to Christian radio, and almost never watched TV. Her parents considered TV and radio evil.
During that first week, everything was great. I found a job waitressing at Cracker Barrel in a town nearby, and Naomi and I typically ate dinner together. We cooked and talked about men, and I ignored the Bible quotes she kept on a chalkboard in a corner, and on a roll of index cards over the sink. But as time went on, I began to feel isolated. Even at the bars there were religious folks, and it was beginning to wear on me. I started talking on the phone to people at home who were more like me: spiritual or agnostic. I wanted to hang out with someone who wouldn’t bring up God or the Bible; I wanted a few minutes of peace from religion.
One night after dinner, when Naomi and I were sitting at the kitchen table, I asked, “Why do you wear a head covering?”
“I’ll show you,” She said, hustling into the living room and coming back out with her Bible, which was filled with sticky-notes. She sat down and put her finger to a line and began to read aloud from 1 Corinthians 11, which states, among other lines: “…every woman who prays…with her head uncovered dishonors her head…for long hair is given to her as a covering.”
I looked over her shoulder and read silently. “But doesn’t that just mean you need to keep your hair long?” I asked.
“No, it means we need to wear a head covering to pray. Get it?”
I shook my head. “No. But thanks for trying to explain it to me.”
That night I lay in bed, trying to understand why I was frustrated. I left a week or so later, having stayed only a month, desperate to get out. Throughout the years I’ve gone back to the memory to try to understand what went wrong, because I have no problem with religious people. But I don’t know why I had to leave.
Then, a few months ago, my sister asked me to bring some beer to her Thanksgiving party. I told her I could bring cider or wine, but probably not beer, because I wanted to bring something I would drink. She argued with me for hours about it, telling me that her friends were spending hundreds of dollars bringing food, so why couldn’t I just bring the beer? When I told her I wanted to stop arguing, she refused, because she needed to understand why I wouldn’t bring what she’d asked.
She thought she was trying to understand, but really she was trying to persuade me to her line of thinking. She thought that if she argued long enough that I would give in (I didn’t and ended up avoiding the party altogether).
I wonder if the need to align ourselves with others makes us hurt one another when we’re confused. When we can’t understand where someone is coming from, it frustrates us so much that we have to run away from our uncertainties, and from those we can’t comprehend.