Maybe you did not go to church because God lets crazy people shoot fifty strangers. I have not been going because God has ruined my life in other ways.
I walked into a church, a church where no one knew me, so maybe I would feel different, and an usher told me not to sit down because they were in the middle of reading the lesson. Wouldn’t it be much less disruptive to let me sit down than to tell me not to? What kind of person tells people not to sit in church? It wasn’t even the gospel. I was going to leave.
I wasn’t going to leave.
The lesson was about Ahab and Jezebel and a garden, a long lesson no one would want to talk about. I had to confirm it was really about Ahab, and I didn’t just have Ahab on my mind, the way I always do when I am downtown, in Melville’s neighborhood.
I sat. On one side of me, a woman who also was doing the whole thing, on the other, a woman who didn’t seem to know the drill. In front of us, three people who were Asian and just sat. It’s a funny phenomena, here where churches are tourist attractions, so that church, and the big cathedrals, are both holy places and places people come to see holiness played out. Through the whole service, there was a group of people in back taking photos. The woman next to me was texting someone.
This is all fine, it’s just weird.
Why were they there? We were animals in the zoo? In Asia, we would go to temples and take photos and not pray. Why was I there? To feel better for a minute, to feel not trapped in being angry the church I had joined, that no one might notice I was gone, so petty. Or I was there because I had several times hit this church after a bad day, it was on my way home from my Manhattan job, and the side chapel is small and sweet and quiet, and the subway is right there, and it was bigger and more fancy town than my church.
The priest had to talk about the shooting. I had heard something bad in a minute of NPR. I am in full self-protection/healing mode, which means No politics, but still I had heard that. I hadn’t heard it was a gay club.
I’ve spent some small happy times in gay bars for the dancing or the singing. The reason a gay bar feels so safe is that I figure everyone there is at peace with him/herself, they had to work harder to become so, and they value tolerance more than other people, so I feel safe.
Like people should feel safe at church, but then, it’s been a year since another lunatic shot up a Bible study.
I got communion. I got to sing. I didn’t feel particularly better about God, in a narrative sense, but I did feel that things that hurt me were like pieces of armor or extra bones that I could shake off, rather than a part of my structure.
I was not feeling brave enough to go to doughnut time afterward.
I went down to the water. I am preparing this costume for the Mermaid Parade next week. I am going as The Sea. So it was research. What is water? It has four or five inch ruffles of white foam from the wind and the passings of the jet skis and the ferry and the Statue cruise boats, which could be rendered with white acrylic paint and dabbing with a bristly brush. I was watching the happy painter earlier in the week. His technique could help me.
Monday I went to the East River and looked out at it for a while. My anxiety brain cloud has been reactivating ferociously, so I was looking at the East River and waiting for my good drugs to take effect. It was windy that day, walking out on a pier to be surrounded by water.
It was so windy today, I lay back on a bench, with the Statue of Liberty to my left, and even though I was holding it down, the wind was so strong, my skirt a sail, it blew up and I was glad I wore clean and uninteresting underwear.
I don’t think a single soul noticed.
The priest said we can’t let people who use freedom another way take it away from us. What freedom really means. FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear. Why does God let people do that, frighten us for their freedom. Why do we let them?
I am used to wind. I don’t know why now I need water, water does scare me, big quantities of it seem like too much, for this midwesterner. It never scares me as much as buildings too big or too much sky, though. I was always a good swimmer, in my dreams, I can always breathe underwater.
Image: “Evening Wind,” Edward Hopper, Metropolitan Museum of Art.