I went to church on Sunday.
I felt no strong pull to attend synagogue, despite the High Holy Days and Days of Awe which my family and friends are celebrating this week. I've been speaking to my heart this week, examining corners and wondering where the new year will take me, but I've been unmotivated to pray in public. There was nothing for me to say, there.
Today is Christina-Taylor's birthday, though, and last Sunday was the second Sunday in September, the day on which a mass is celebrated in her name. So, there I was, at St. Odilia's, her family's church, two traffic lights away from the Safeway where bullets took her from us. Honestly, I'd rather have been at her 12th birthday party.
But, the day and time were announced on Facebook, and everyone was invited. I rolled out of bed and through the shower and my closet without thinking too much. I was in the parking lot fifteen minutes later, leaving my car next to her parents' car, and in front of this sign
I was trying to hold it together, but that just pulled it apart. What have we come to that such signs are necessary... at a church?
I slipped into the back row, after telling the Boy Scout on the patio that I would donate to his cause after the service, if he could formulate his reasons more articulately. I tried to laugh at myself for making every moment a teachable moment, but the smile wouldn't come. My civics lesson with Gabby and Christina-Taylor had led me to a hard bench on a Sunday morning and my heart was breaking into little pieces. None of them wanted to be translated into a grin.
St. Odillia's is a friendly place, starting (and ending) the service with handshakes and greetings. The message was hopeful and welcoming and healing. The cantor (there must be a word for the person who sings in a Catholic service but this is as close as I can come) held out her arms, bringing us into her song, encompassing us all as she thanked Jesus. "You have been our refuge," she sang, and I knew that it was true. My friends find solace in their belief in his goodness; for that I am ever grateful.
Two babies were introduced to the community, and blessed. Christina-Taylor's delight in being a 9/11 baby was the centerpiece of the sermon, a short and thoughtful homily on healing grace and poverty and what we can do about it. "If you want peace, work for justice," was the message. I wanted nothing more than to talk about it with CTG. I was lonely, and the comfort I wanted cannot be found.
So I looked around the auditorium, at the Dad cossetting his antsy young son, tenderly stroking his head, directing his attention to the dais; at the quiet chatter in the glass fronted family room, where praying and playing were taking place side by side; at the three crones, one terribly palsied, all white haired and smiling and delighting in one another as they helped and guided and laughed. I watched the parishioners take Communion, eating the bread that was matzoh and which, this morning, resembled a tortilla, leaving the altar with clasped hands and gentle smiles.
I realized that I was no longer on the outside, looking in.
I was part of the community and that was the point. Christina-Taylor was all about inclusion and joy and doing something new. In her honor, I was wearing an outfit I'd coordinated with accessories to match, and though I was one of the few who were not in blue jeans, I didn't feel overdressed. There was no one there to judge. They were glad that I was there, new, dressed up, knowing no one but smiled at by all.
Fr. Troutman, the pastor, remembered my name and asked about my rehab before sighing that the family's pew was full. I assured him that it didn't matter. I felt connected, right there in the back.
My little friend is gone, but she is not forgotten. She is with me as I drop off socks to PYP and as I measure how tall her brother has grown. While he towers over me and recounts his mom's encounter with a rattle snake while wearing red... a color certain to enrage the reptile... wearing a sport coat and looking all grown up... his sister is sitting on my shoulder, laughing along with me.
I don't think I'll make this a regular Sunday thing, but I am looking forward to it as an annual event, a re-connection with a part of myself I don't visit very often. Thanks for the invitation, Christina. I love you.