Last weekend I participated in my local farmer's market. I sell my prints alongside other locals selling produce, canned goods, handmade items, and baked goods. I enjoy being part of the local community, and I meet a lot of interesting people.
Our market is made up of many different "types." We have the old-school farmers who wear overalls and obviously know exactly what they're doing judging by the size and quantity of their produce. We have the organic, crunchy people who wear tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks and can tell you what to put in your compost and the health benefits of certain herbs and that sort of thing. (I have nothing against Birkenstocks, incidentally - I got married in them.) Then we have the motherly/grandmotherly types who make lots of wonderful needlecrafts and baked goods. Then, you have a few odd ducks like me who don't really fit into any of the other categories. It's an interesting variety, and I enjoy it...
However, last Saturday, being a cold and slow day at the Farmer's Market, I found myself involved in what began as a very Normal Farmer's Market Conversation [NFMC], and ended up being one of the strangest and saddest conversations I've ever had. What follows is an excerpt of the conversation, as accurately as I can remember it. I have concealed the names of the other two people involved
because I don’t know them
for their protection. So here we go:
Lady 1 (L1): I'm almost out of goat cheese... NFMC, right?
Me: Do you make it yourself? NFMC
Lady 2 (L2): No, we get it from this lady in NC. NFMC
L1: It's so good - no artificial ingredients; just pure goat's milk. NFMC
L2: Maybe when she comes in the spring, we can get her to bring some. NFMC
Me: Is she coming for one of the Farmer’s Market demo events? NFMC
L2: No, she's coming to do a private thing at her (L1's) house. NFMC
Me: Oh, I see... NFMC
L2: She's doing a "Spirit Party." !?!
Me, leaning forward, certain that I misunderstood her through my ear muffs: A "spirit" party…? A far-off bell, clanging through the fog…
L2: Yes, a spirit party... you know, in the trees.
Me: In the trees....? Cue the Twilight Zone soundtrack.
L2: This lady we know speaks to the spirits and the sprites and the nymphs. She has been doing it ever since she was a little girl. Kitchen smoke detector, activated, 3am; simultaneously, shrieking ambulance pulls into the driveway.
L1: Yes, she’s heard them since she was 8.
Me: silence; brief clip of _The Exorcist_ runs involuntarily through brain.
L2: Yes, she's always heard them; she always kept quiet about it because people made fun of her, but now that people are more receptive to thinking that there are things out there besides us, she’s starting to speak about it to small groups. What you do is you host a party at your house….
L1, interjecting: Yes, we’ll have lunch. You can make the food, I’ll make the desserts.
L2: That sounds good, or I can make the desserts… This lady comes, and you pick out a special tree that has a deep meaning to you, and she comes and communicates with the spirits in the tree and the fairies and the elves.
Me: speechless, deer-in-the-headlights-look-on-face, glancing around, looking for the hidden camera crew.
L1 awkwardly, after looking at my face, to L2:
I think I’ve picked out my tree….
L2: Oh have you, which one is it?
Me: Numbly wondering how exactly I landed on Pluto that morning…
L1: It’s a black hawthorn tree – it blooms in the spring and has thorns on it.
L2: Oh yes, I’ve heard you mention that one.
L1: It’s beautiful, and the little people like it.
Me: feeling I am beginning to have an out-of-body experience; last thing I remember thinking: “Little people… as in leprechauns.........?”
At this point, the remainder of the conversation is a bit fuzzy, as no camera crew ever popped out, no punch line was delivered, and I was left to deal with the fact that I was standing with two very normal-looking 60-something-year-old women (these weren’t even the tie-dyed Birkenstock people)
who were having a serious discussion about bringing in an “expert” from NC to talk to the leprechauns and tree spirits who frequent their back yards. I believe somewhere in the fuzziness I received an invitation to attend the event next spring… but I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a headache that day.
If the whole experience had been a joke, dream, or a scene from a book or movie, it would have been outrageously funny, and I would still be chuckling about it… But it wasn’t a dream; it really happened. These two misguided ladies sincerely believe they can talk to trees and fairies in their back yards, with the help of this goat-cheese-making-medium from NC. And that is how they’re finding meaning in their lives….
It reminded me yet again that there really aren’t many different types of people out there. There are just two types… those who have repented of their sin, placed their trust in Jesus Christ, and are bound for an eternity in heaven, and those who have put their trust elsewhere and are bound for an eternity in hell: “the weight of glory,” as C.S. Lewis calls it:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”).
Every day we come into contact with people on one of two roads. I’m sorry to say that on this occasion, I was so stunned that I lacked the presence of mind to even know how to begin to share the Gospel with these two ladies. But if I see them again, and if they renew their invitation to their tree spirit party, I think I’ll decline, but I’ll tell them about a tree that’s meaningful to me:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.
To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he'll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I'll share.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.
(The Old Rugged Cross, by George Bennard)