In profile she is an African fertility goddess: belly and behind protruding in opposite directions. She is presenting a workshop to which I’ve come feeling groggy and cranky from a cold. And I want to be back in bed with earplugs and sleeping mask firmly in place.
Throughout the session, her wry comments about men leave me irritated and cool. I count them – five times she cracks jokes that make an audience dominated by women, titter and laugh. But I am not amused. Fatigue combined with a bad mood causes me to drift in and out of a droning delivery. I find myself having thoughts about this presenter that are not complimentary. And wonder why she occasionally makes eye-contact with me.
During the break I pass by her as she waits by an elevator. Looking directly at me, this stranger brightens and says, “Hi, how’re you doing?”
I feel startled and assess whether her voice carries the inflection of someone who has intuited my attitude – if not my very thoughts – and wonder if this is her subtle way of rebuking me. So I reply with the reflex of those who guard their true sentiments: “I’m fine. How’re you?”
She replies, “You have such a calm looking face. When I’m talking I focus on you, because you have a relaxing effect on me.” She explains that she searches for faces like mine at workshops because they center her, and today she has selected mine.
Surprised by her warm sincerity, I muster a smile and say ‘thank you’. But behind my appreciation I feel chastened by the ironic justice and grace that this appointment has given. I return to the conference, humbled but uplifted.
Her comment has burned away the chaff of my fatigue and ill humour. And when she shares an anecdote which pokes at her husband I now hear it like a humorous intimacy. By the time the workshop closes, my disparaging pettiness has been transformed. She is a goddess, indeed: one who heals.