Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Meeting I Almost Missed

Mary was too tired to go to Relief Society tonight no matter how many times her friend, Julia, told her it would be an outstanding meeting.  I don’t know what changed Mary’s mind, for she knew the author, Dr. Sue Johnson, had written the book, Hold Me Tight, and that she would be talking at the meeting.

“Free counselling,” Mary said finally,  “I should go.”

“Then I will join you,” I said, hoping that we could stop by the Dairy Queen on the way home and get Blizzards, since the 2 for 1 sale is still on.

But reception afterwards took the edge off of my desire to hit an ice-cream sale.  And since we drove into Ottawa in someone else’s car, we had to wait until they were ready to go home and so were the last one’s out of the cultural hall.

Now I admit to being a skeptic.  And it took me a good twenty-minutes to warm up to the presenter who was doing her talk in front of 76 women – since everyone in the stake had been invited.  Sue Johnson said it was so nice to be in her own home town, talking to a small intimate group of women.  Mary’s internal voice was saying, “Are  you kidding, this is a huge group of Mormon women.” But the group isn’t that big to Dr. Johnson who travel internationally and gives a lot of talks.

As soon as the meeting was over, I headed down the isle to the first group of older women I could find still sitting in the chapel.  “Alright,” I said, "how many of you are from the West?  A talk like this could never be given there. 

“You are right”, one woman said, “we couldn’t even advertize this in our ward.” 

“Where are you from, in the West,” I asked.

“Chapel Hill Ward.  We weren’t even allowed to advertize this talk in our Relief Society.”

“Hey, she is talking about Western Canada, not western Ottawa,” another woman corrected.

“Now let me get this straight,” I said.  “Some of you are here because it was advertized in your ward, and in some wards it wasn’t allowed to be advertized.  So how did you hear about it?  Relief Society underground?”

They nodded.

One of them went on, “Well, in our ward, we served herbal tea a few months abo and you have never heard such a hullabaloo.

"Oh, I see how that can be problematic," I said, “No wonder they wouldn’t let you advertize this session about finding intimacy with your partner.  One vice is enough, and you guys have herbal tea.”

Rosemary, one of the women in the first group, works for the church social services.  She said that stake presidents and bishops sent her notes, asking if she thought this event would be O.K. She said, "Absolutely.  Go for it."   She asked me, was she right or wrong.

I gave the R.S. President, the bishop, and all involved in organizing the event a 10/10.  I will be back to church anyday and bring every friend I can find if they have any more meetings that matching this one.  I told the women I feel sorry for the prophet next week when he has to talk in General Conference, for the bar has been raised quite high.

Now, I may, or may not have told you about Rosemary Hepburn, a widow in Mary’s ward – so I must digress.  She is a 78 year old retired school teacher who took 12 of us out to lunch at a Chinese Restaurant, the Phoenix, last week.  The first remark I want to make is that a very young Relief Society President in the ward has just asked her to be her counsellor. I thought it was a brilliant move for all of the older women in the ward can relate to Rosemary, and Rosemary relates to all of the younger women.  I fell in love with her first thing – forthright, frank, witty, no-nonsense.  And so she reappeared in my life tonight, telling me after the meeting that when she got to the church, she was told that the talk had to be given in the cultural hall, not in the Chapel.  “Look here, Bernie, it is going to be given in the chapel, and I don’t want to hear anything more from you about it.”  So that bit of advice from him she ignored. That Relief Society Presidency wasn't putting their guest in some back room.  That is the nice thing about older women – at least ones like her.  They just don’t have time to argue about anything that they have already thought through and decided is fine.

Questions were to be fielded by the presenter after the talk, and a question box was passed around the congregation – passed around twice.  The questions were thoughtful.  I wondered what Sue Johnson would say to the woman who said, “I am single.  What does this talk have to do with me”, and the answer was quick, “intimacy is practised in many relationships – by single people.  We all have much to learn about the subject and I can give you an example from my own life of how I carried my father with me, all the way to America when I came many years ago on a boat.”  How sweet was that.  And she went on to tell a charming story of a young girl who could feel the loving support of her father on  her first world adventure.  

I kept surveying the older crowd of women to see how they took to the talk, for it was a frank talk about intimacy and sexuality.  To a woman they all agreed, if only Relief Society could have been like this when we were  young.

I have come to the end of my typing, before I even got started on tonight's church adventure.  Maybe Mary will chime in some more about how much our bodies shook as we tried to supress our laughter.  

Mary got derailed at the reception after the talk -- 3 long tables full of snack foods to die for and she was only eating carrots.  "Why is it we can serve food like this a after Relief Society evening," she said, "sweeping her arm in the air down the whole length of the table, "and we can't have a few cookies and a drink when a new convert is baptised.  Just look at this food here!" I heard her warn the new bishop's wife, "Even if he didn't make the rule, tell him I am bringing cookies and drinks to every baptism until things change and he will just have to deal with me there."

Oh yes.  Maybe we should have stayed home.



  1. OMG! the penny didn't drop til the end of the post... you mean "THE" Sue Johnson? or is it Johansen? the one who is the grandmotherly woman who talks about sex? if so, that is fabulous!!!! tell me more!

  2. Different Sue, but the same frankness -- a little more finesse with ours. My Foxfire isn't letting me do searches, for I was going to do a link to her book. She runs a Intimacy Institute in Ottawa, is a professor at the University of Ottawa, has another appointment in a university in the U.S., does a lot of travelling and talking to large groups, just got back from Europe, is finishing up her second book.

    Now you are going to ask more questions, so I will answer them -- this woman is English, has a 21 year old girl, a 19 year old boy, a husband who likes to hike, talked a lot about how they run therapy sessions, how they try to get couples talking to teach other again, "dancing" she calls it, helping them to see how the others are feelings. She gave lots of citations -- offered other authors to read -- you know me, I will have to go out and look at the studies ... but so much of it was right on the mark and in that tone and vein.

    She did some excellent vignettes, had the right tone showing how sometimes discussions in the institute with their clients can get worse and worse -- had a beautiful face (well not that beautiful), but put on a face for stone-walling that had every woman in the audience laughing so hard. Either we have made that face or seen it.

    She talked about sex 50 years ago and now -- how some discussions about it have changed. ie ... one woman said that all her mother could say about sex was ... it is a funny five minutes. Those words represented all of the sex education this client ever had, said over and over again. Mary leaned over and whispered, "Thank goodness you didn't use that phrase on me." That might have been when the 2 of us dissolved in laughter, though we were trying to portray reserve and dignity.

    That is because Mary marched right in and sat on the front pew. Said she always sits there, has since she was a child, does it now when she goes to church and so we might as well just take our rightful place. Very few people take the front pew. They don't know that you get to see the whites of the speaker's eyes there. If they knew that don't you think more people would be sit there -- they represent "the stalls" at musical theatre to me. Prime seats.

    On the down side, afterward, many people came to us and said they had watched us and they could tell us at which points our bodies were giving it away that we were thoroughly enjoying the talk -- probably our own laughs of self-recognition. Don't sit on the front row if you don't want people to see that. All I could think is, you must have been liking the messages a lot as well, to be able to repeat so much of what was said back to us.

    And yes, ... one woman said to me, the church just turned a big corner. My fondest hope would be that is true.

    I fear instead it will be one step forward, two steps back -- but oh boy, a big wow to that one step; it was so refreshing.


  3. It sounds like a fabulous Relief Society Talk!