|The Table: A Story
K. S. Anthony
© Copyright 2003 by K. S. Anthony
I grew up in a small town and attended--when I did actually attend--a small high school about 20 miles from my hometown. This was in the pre-Columbine era of High Schools, before metal detectors and paranoia running rampant every time a frustrated kid voiced his desire to vent his or her anger on the world. I was one of those frustrated kids: angry, alienated, always feeling somehow different. Some of it was because I chose to alienate myself from the predominantly Mormon student body, having been raised an atheist by my academic parents who divorced when I was very young. Much of it was because I was different. I was one of those kids you see nowadays dressed from head to toe in black, with long hair covering my face and that slow shuffling walk that tried to ignore the taunts behind my back of "devil worshipper" or "freak." I didn't play sports--I rarely even dressed out for P.E. and at 5'10" and 135 pounds, wasn't cut out for any sport save perhaps table tennis which I lacked the dexterity and hand eye coordination for. I had been originally placed in Honors classes, but dropped out of all of them. It wasn't that the workload was too much: it was just that I was lazy and disinterested. I did the bare minimum of work and took only the classes I had to take in order to graduate. The only things I ever excelled in were English, news writing, art and home economics. They were also the only classes taught by teachers who didn't condemn me as some sort of irredeemable heretic. By my junior year, I filled half my schedule as a teacher's aide: for math and for home economics.
There is very little I care to remember about High School, but I do remember and remember very well that my first feeling of Grace, of the knowledge that God exists, came to me there, in the midst of persecution and harassment, of being chased and tormented by my classmates, of being labeled an outsider. It was the week before Easter. I was a teacher's aide for Mrs. Bowen, the home economics teacher. Her daughter was a friend of mine; not a close friend, but someone who I will always remember as being sweet and funny and who was kind to me when doing so could mean losing one's popularity status a notch or two. In any case, I was finishing up some papers when Mrs. Bowen, who was Mormon, asked me what I was doing for Easter.
"I don't know. Nothing." She looked at me, concerned, like I had said something very strange.
"Nothing? You mean your family's not doing anything?"
"I guess not. My mom'll probably go to church, but we never really do anything. I'll probably just go hang out somewhere." I went back to shuffling papers, suddenly self-conscious.
"Well, why don't you come over and have Easter dinner with us. You don't have to come to Church if you don't want to, but come have Easter dinner with us. We'll have plenty of food." She smiled, though the look of concern hadn't quite left her face. "You shouldn't have to spend Easter alone." She told me where she lived and wrote the address down.
It was the first time that that type of kindness had ever been extended to me. Here I was, having built this dark reputation out of defiance for everything that the people around me had represented and had rejected me for, and I was being invited to Easter Dinner. I was shocked and overwhelmed and confused. I don't remember what I said, but I hope I said thank you.
I would like to be able to say that I had dinner with the Bowens on Easter. I would like to say that I sat down as an outsider and broke bread with people, who through the spirit of hospitality had invited a stranger and an unbeliever to sit and eat with them on one of their most sacred holidays. But I didn't. I thought about it and thought about it and was haunted by it, but ultimately I didn't. I think part of my reason for not doing so was a sense of shame: I did not feel worthy to eat dinner with such kind people. I had felt rejected for so long by not just my classmates, but by the world in general, that I felt unworthy to receive even this simple gift of grace, offered in earnest by a woman who knew me only as a student and a teacher's aide, and who had, despite my appearance and reputation, extended the warmth of her family's table to me. Who was I to receive this? No one. I was no one.
The Monday after Easter, she made no mention of it, save to say that she missed me on Easter.
I continued to be her teacher's aide. She became sick later: I don't remember if it was that year or the next. Cancer. It consumed her quickly and I remember the last time I saw her. If she was afraid, I didn't see it on that day. She hugged me and I did everything I could not to cry because one of the only people in that miserable school who never judged me, who never looked down on me, who on more than one occasion, defended me as being misunderstood, was going to die. And there was nothing I could do about it except say that I was sorry. And I cried anyway, albeit alone and through clenched teeth--the way you learn to shed tears when you grow up lonely.
Not long after that, I was called into her classroom by the head of the Home Economics department who wanted to tell me personally that Mrs. Bowen had died. I don't remember anything else about that day except I know I felt sick to my stomach and cried anyway, right then and there, in the middle of the classroom where she had, through a simple act of kindness that she probably thought nothing of, that probably came as naturally to her as a mother picking up her child, given me a glimpse of grace.
Some people say that "a part of them dies" when someone they care about dies. For me, it was somewhat reversed. Something in me sprouted to life and remained there.
I have done things that I am so ashamed of that I do not feel that I could ever be forgiven. I still continue to feel unworthy. But I feel I have been called to serve, though I am, the world's most unlikely candidate and probably the world's worst Christian.
But it is in those moments of unworthiness that I recall that someone else once thought differently, and that she extended a kind hand to me despite whatever I thought of myself. I turned away from that gift of grace then. But I do not turn from the gift of grace now; the hand that is always extended, the seat at the table that is open to all who will simply say, "Yes, I will join with you at your table, though I know not why I have been invited."
In that spirit, I was
baptized in the Anglican Church, the Church of my ancestors, on Pentecost
of this year. I hope that Mrs. Bowen, wherever she is, was watching and
saw that I finally made it to the table that she had invited me to after
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