Sunday, January 15, 2006

01 2006 The Presbyterian Church

We went to look at this church. It must have stood there a hundred years, exterior of red brick, high peaked ceilings reaching from inside for the sky, like a woman raising her arms, throwing her head back and opening her heart as an offering to her God. The ceilings were painted with a fresco of pale blue & gold, and log harsh cracks ran through the paint. Through the plaster. Through the very soul of the place, this beautiful grand building silently weeping for repair. 'Neat and tidy' held its place desperately against the tide of time, holding back 'shabby' by sheer will alone. The acoustics in the chapel were amazing. You could almost feel in the air the ghosts of every beautiful note that had ever been uttered in this place. A single note, even slightly off key, wafted upwards and expanded and seemed to become clear and beautiful as it joined with the spirits of all the notes that had ever gone before it. It made me feel reverent in the quiet places of my soul, made me long to fall to my knees and send up prayer. Made me long to open my throat and offer up a sweet aria to all the forces of the ancient earth.
We poked our noses into room after room, and as my soul softened and expanded against the quiet workings of this place, the less I saw 'oooh, new exercise equipment!' and 'see what we're doing for our parish?' the more I felt a glowing peace wrapping itself around my inner sight. And the softer my soul became, the more I felt him, steps away, another warm and glowing presence wrapping itself around my inner soul. The two great and powerful presences mingled and flowed as one, bringing smile to my face and awe to my heart. I could feel his very heart beat, and I wanted to close my eyes and swim in these sensations. I wanted to sing and feel his heart change to the rhythm. I wanted to hold his soul against mine and soar, fly with him through this feeling of awe and wonder.
It's always tiny, pedantic things that bring one back to reality. We poked our noses into the downstairs. There was a kitchen, a meeting area like that in hundreds of old churches where they serve mother-daughter banquets and Sunday pancake breakfasts and potluck dinners. Against one wall was a large oil painting - real oils, whose sepia lends a certain lifelike quality even when the skill of the painter isn't all that large. He was looking at it, a little lost in thought, and as I stepped past him on my way to investigate another nook or cranny, he turned & stopped me with his comment. "I love this painting. I have always loved this painting." I stopped too, and really looked at it for a moment… I only needed a moment. Then I murmured something shallow in agreement & left, although I looked again before we left the building, for longer and while he was not a mere breath or two away from me.
A landscape. Stream wrapping itself happy and mostly serene around and beyond small rocks, a few old worn craggy boulders that had themselves sat there hundreds of years, wearing out a grain of sand at a time as the elements work on them and the centuries pass. A few trees lean their branches gracefully over the water's edge, some grass here & there, hinting of broad green fields stretching for miles, open sky, a vista rising in the distance. Tiny, pedantic things like being able to see clearly my daughter running & climbing over those very rocks on the far shore. A child investigating all the wondrous things that can be found along a stream's edge. There was a great rock on the other side of the stream where I could see me warming myself in the sunlight and reading a book, leaning against the bark of an old tree. And of course I could see him… walking in the long grass, soaking his soul in the miles of open air - no one else to break our beautiful solitude for miles and miles… any city just a far off forgotten dream. I could see him sometimes next to me, his head in my lap… sometimes cradling mine in his, sometimes simply next to one another… silent or talking about things great or small. I could see him rising long & leonine and crossing the stream to tickle his toes in the grass, or to share what new wonder my daughter had found now. I could sometimes see a dog - maybe a beautiful golden retriever, coat catching the sunlight as the day begins to wane, fur bouncing as he leaps & gallops his way back and forth between my girl and him. I could hear the barking of the dog, interspersed sometimes by child's laughter and sometimes by his delighted chuckle wafting deep across the water. I could hear the wind talking with the tree above me, the stream in its endless monologue, and the birds as they made their music unafraid in this untouched place.
Mingled with these oh-so-real visions, I felt the soul of the chapel above us reach down and join the ghosts of voices to the songs of that universe, join the very real, warm beating of his heart into the score. Join mine.
And then in that same few seconds, I felt the shattering of illusion: a Y in awareness, not making the other go away, but insisting on existing in tandem as another part of my brain reminded me of all the realities of our world. Reminded me of how often and far he remains separate from me even as other times he is so close. Reminded me of each time he has thrown warnings in my path that this thing we share will most likely see an end, and how every moment we share is shadowed and infinitesimally damaged for me by wondering if in a few days or a few weeks I will look back and find that moment was the one that was the last. Reminded me of letters he has written in which he sends excitedly to an old pal of the news and the stunning women in his life, and in which I was not even an honorable mention. Reminded me of other women who also write about sleeping in his arms and shedding tears to soak into his warm mane. A Y in awareness showing me in the same explicit detail the long deep cracks, much like those in the chapel above, that will line and damage the fresco of my soul if he leaves.

Sorrow often walks hand in hand with gladness. I simply could not in that moment bear the burden of how deeply they both run into and through me where he is concerned. So I murmured something shallow in agreement with his perusal of the painting and I moved on to look at something more of this world, less fraught with dreams. Dreaming is a wonderful thing, and I would not stop doing it if I could… but as I have to often remind my daughter, wishing something does not make it so.


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