I was thinking this morning about church. It’s that time of year, where I especially miss it. I love knowing that you’re going to sing “Up from the Grave He Arose” on Easter morning no matter what and that everyone is going to be in their best clothes and all the little kids will be in ridiculous hats and new shoes.
One year, my dad had the congregation sing “Joy to the World” on Easter Sunday, which was really amazing, I thought. Obviously, though, someone bitched about it, because he hasn’t done it since. That’s too bad.
There’s a lot of pettiness in congregations. My favorite little funny saying about it is “If the Church is the Body of Christ, that means there’s an asshole in every congregation.” I don’t miss that.
But there’s also some stuff that goes on in the church that I really miss. I miss the quietness of the sanctuary during the week, so still and cool. I miss the ritual. I appreciate that every funeral starts out exactly the same and that you can just recite right along with everything without having to think about it. Funerals are sad, but they’re a respite from the grief. You actually get to move through something familiar that starts and finishes at a time when you don’t feel like you can get through another thing.
But I really miss the church kitchen. Every church my dad ever served had a kitchen which seemed to be the real soul of the building. People snuck in there to gossip, they stuck candles in surprise birthday cakes, they served treats to small children, they washed dishes and cooked chili and laughed and started water balloon fights.
I was thinking of one of the women in my dad’s church when I was in high school. Once, when we were in the church kitchen, she started telling me about her son, who had died in Viet Nam. She told me about answering the door and seeing a man in a uniform and then watching her coffee arc out over the lawn and him ducking the mug and how she remembered hearing screaming, but not realizing it was herself.
She guessed they must have told her that her son was dead, but she didn’t remember it, just the coffee and the screaming and the feeling like everything around her, including her body, was moving forward, but she was stuck in that moment right before she knew for sure.
And then, it was like she skipped forward, caught up with herself sometime after that.
When she was telling me this, there were plenty of other people in the kitchen. No one bothered us, but they all kept an eye on the situation. I thought that was very generous of them, to listen and to not butt in.
I told the Shill once, and I still believe it, that there are a lot of people who really want someone to listen to them, to really listen.
I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to hear people’s stories. As much as I love to read and write, there’s a lot of stories out there that never get written down. But people have them and they hold those stories dear and they still do try to pass them along to people they think will pass them along.
That’s really amazing, when you think about it, this oh so human desire we have to share our experiences with each other and to have our concrete experiences turned into something aesthetic.
The Professor has this friend with a tattoo that delights me–Hammer of the Gods–written in runes on his back. His only tattoo and he’s used the opportunity to turn his shoulder into a page. Well, all our bodies tell a certain kind of story about who we are–but I love that he’s made that more explicit. It’s funny, too, because he’s the kind of person who storms around the kitchen lambasting lit crit for not understanding that history is history and not narrative (obviously, I think he’s utterly misguided) and that any narrative that might occur in a history book is just the historian’s attempt to emplotten things.
And yet, his tattoo would indicate an deep concern with the artful functions of words.
Well, thinking all about church obviously has me thinking about death. It’s one of the drawbacks to a Christian upbringing–you spend a lot of time worrying about death and what comes after–and, since leaving that life, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn to live in the world and love it.
But this makes me laugh, a little, that, since I’m not married, it’ll fall to my Christian family to do away with my old, phlegmy corpse (I hope! Let my corpse be that of an old, phlegm-filled, gray-haired lady!) and they’ll haul me right up the front of the church and let some Methodist minister say words over me.
Because, it doesn’t matter what I believe (obviously, it matters to me); it’s inconceivable to my family that it would have any effect on the “right” thing to do.
It’s making me think that the Professor’s friend has the right idea. If you can’t control your narrative, at least leave some textual evidence for a likely alternate reading.