Monday, August 06, 2012

What Comes Next

"What church do you go to?" she asks me as she's hanging up her clothes in my closet.

"We don't go to church."


What kind of question is that I wonder to myself, glad that I stifled the urge moments before to ask her if she had a boyfriend or if she thought Donny Osmond was cute. We'd picked her up at the airport less than half an hour ago, paired up as exchange students, and she is the first of us to dare fly across the country to be a guest in my home.

She furrows her brow at my answer and I worry that she'll want to go home immediately. Or that she'll cry. She bites her lip and we go out to the kitchen to get a snack. Soon we find out that we'd recently celebrated our 16th birthdays mere days apart and that gets us moving towards common ground. Relief. Before we know it,  it's my turn to get on a plane and travel eastward to her house.

On her turf I listen to her parents yelling at each in Italian as if they were across the hallway instead of across the table. It's the first time I've heard anyone raise their voice so matter of factly and without anger. I wonder what an argument would sound like. How many decibels would their voices rise? Her parents want to know if we have outhouses in our part of the country. Do we have running water? I laugh. Seriously? I think about telling them we have outhouses only in our churches but I don't.

One day we go to the neighbourhood restaurant and buy country chicken for supper. As we wait for her dad to come back to the car I notice the St. Christopher medal on the dash of the car. I ask my friend what it is and she tells me he is the Patron Saint of Travellers. She says it without apology and I think to myself that is some kind of weird shit to believe.

Sunday comes and that means it's time to go to church. The last time I was in a church I was 8 years old. We sit near the middle of the church but I sit at the end of the pew. I've always liked an exit route.  I look around the cavernous building. It's full of light and the roof is so far away I bet we'd look like ants if I was a fly on the ceiling.The priest starts to talk and I tune him out - daydreaming as I look around me at the stone walls and the stained glass windows. I'm not paying one iota of attention when suddenly the woman in front of me turns around, smiles, and extends her hand sayinig, "Peace of Christ be with you." I turn a bright shade of red and clumsily shake her hand. I look at my friend and raise my eyebrows. She thrusts her own hand towards me and I hastily shake it as if I'm afraid that whatever she has is catching.

For the next few minutes I am bombarded with people shaking my hand and smiling at me and I want to shrink down into nothingness. Weird shit all over again. Relief floods over me when everyone turns around and sits down. For the rest of the service I feel a little on edge because I don't know the way it works and I hate not knowing what comes next. I never again go into a Catholic Church without reminding myself that at some point a stranger is going to thrust their hand in my direction. I don't know why they will but I determine that I'll never get caught off guard again. It means I have to pay attention.


I come into the coolness of the church and go about setting up the altar, carefully placing the cloths in the right order on top of the chalice. The rituals soothe my nerves and I'm glad because I've  been feeling agitated all morning. Full of fear.  I've run to the starting line of 'this is going to kill me' and my  mind has raced around the track in that vein for much of the day. When the priest comes in I go to him and tell him the results of my biopsy. He grips my arm and whispers in my ear with an urgency in his voice, "God bless you." I hear echoes of "He will. He will" ring in my ears.

We gather around the altar for the Lord's prayer as is our custom in our tiny church in the boon docks. Nearly 35 years have passed since that day of embarrassing hand shakes. My friend has since left her faith and I find myself having embraced it fully. I am standing directly in  front of the altar and when the priest lifts his eyes and says "May the peace of the Lord be with you always." His eyes meet mine as he says it and I breathe deeply, soaking it in. As I extend my hand to those around me I want more than anything to feel Christ's peace.

"I want our old life back." Dearest One is standing in the bathroom doorway, shirtless save for a St. Christopher medal hanging around his neck. I poke him gently on the tip of his nose and say, "There is no difference between this life and the other one." He looks at me and says, "You know, that other one. The one we had some control over. The one before last Thursday." I press the St. Christopher medal into his chest like I'm pushing a telephone number and smile at him. "That semblance of control , was an illusion."

As I say it I look at St. Christopher and think about the journey we are on and offer up a silent prayer for travelling mercies. Weird shit, indeed.


spookyrach said...

Beautifully written.

annie said...

Yes, beautiful.

Mary LA said...

So good to read you again Hope --

Mary Christine said...

Uh oh. I am going to have to reapply my make up this morning. I have black-mascaraed tears streaming down my face.

I always warn people about these moments if they are coming with me to Mass. I know they catch people off guard and embarrass them.

And may I join your priest in saying: May the peace of the Lord be with you always.

Peter said...

Remember the old joke: If you want to make God laugh, tell Him (Her/It) your plans.

Jim said...

Always, it is "through the veil", my friend, easier to look back and wonder about the journey than to take the next step in faith; but, somehow, the latter comes with an inner assurance only He can provide. What's in our "belly" can indeed trump what's in our head. Beautiful story told here in your own words, Hope.....8otDepr

Pru said...


Robin said...

Outhouses only in church -- baa-haa!

Seriously, this *is* beautifully written. But I see that I have to go back a bit farther.