02 August 2006
How far is the nearest church?
I go out into the street and walk toward six o'clock bells, chasing steeples, striding down Newbury Street, because it is close, trying to walk off the frantic feeling of unrest that has risen up within me.
I would have thought that waking to a fog horn and eating breakfast looking out over the sea would have rested my soul. But even there on the blue front porch the morning was too hurried, there was too much motion in the nervous rocking of the porch swing, and I don't think I've prayed for days.
On the morning after the wedding, Courtney and I took the train from Rochester to Boston. I read poetry to myself as we crossed salt marshes and passed harbors with red and white boats and salty faded docks. Yellow and green buoys bobbed in the gentle tide; beyond them a grey ocean disappeared into the fog. We left the ocean for mill stacks and the edges of the city, plunging into dark North Station, where we took the green line, underground, to her apartment.
The week began without pause. It was already past noon when we walked to brunch, through the glassed-in shops at the Prudential Center, up and down platinum escalators, past immaculate shop windows, to sit outside beneath a street-side umbrella in an open-air cafe and have grapefruit and coffee and scrambled eggs. There were lots of other people out in their sweatpants and flip flops, just out of bed, letting someone else make them breakfast.
Here the weekend is a finished affair. All the conversation is about the coming week. As a waitress takes our dishes away, I look out into the passing street and watch the hours drive by. We sit for a while and say plenty of nothing until we are back in her apartment and the day is sinking towards dinner, leaning toward Monday.
Beyond the sofa where we sit, the bay windows open into the street, looking out at the brownstone flats across the way, the wrought iron fire escapes, the aged bricks meeting cracked stoops and uneven sidewalks.
I cannot listen
I cannot talk anymore.
I cannot think.
I have no words.
I go alone out into the street.
Boston, why are all your churches locked? Why is there a woman in the garden, on a bench, laying rocking in the summer heat? Why are your doors closed to the homeless and closed to me, in search of refuge and words of peace?
Four churches with closed doors, a fifth, miles away and the service has already begun.
I've been riding trains and buses for days. Sleeping in unfamiliar places and having new conversations with old friends. Friends that I have not seen for years, who I thought had out grown me or I had out grown, and here we all are at the wedding of a friend.
We are so grown up, drinking cocktails in linen summer dresses with elegant hair, dancing to the jazz band and talking about it. Look, Rachel is getting married. Now we have stories to recall, when we were six we played make-believe about when we were twenty. And here we are: And We're So Very Grown-Up.
Here are people I have loved but never think about, suddenly slivering into my world, with their evening-sized slices of reality, faces that bear hints of memories, familiar lines and distant thoughts. I cannot seem to reach across the years or find the words, to tell them what sort of person I am today, compared to who I was when we played in the bushes behind our childhood church. Struck by my emptiness, desperate because of it, desperate to pause before the week is really upon me.
There is a hush in the chambered room, falling deep beneath the echoing voice that reads the homily. Words stratify in the air, separating above, floating up towards the dark cavernous ceiling, hovering by the organ pipes and the flaming red glass. They fall onto my ears in pieces as I slip into a backside pew. Words about Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place. Words about the need for rest.
Lots of other people have come in from the streets. I don't know the words to any of the songs. I don't know where to find the liturgy. Distracted, I don't even try to look. Feeling selfish and guilty about the whole weekend, there is an inner conversation that will not fall silent.
I am listening, unfeeling as my friends go on, probing my spirit cautiously, wondering why it lies so dormant, wanting to speak but not knowing what to say, looking across the train or the table or the room: please, please, please, just read the love on my face. Because I have no words.
Isn't there a spirit within me that ought to form itself into words? Shouldn't I have answers to confused conversation since I have all this hope and peace? Unsettled by strange conversations the past few days, while I am talking the room shifts, the words stop even as my mouth keeps moving, when I realize that I feel neither hope nor peace.
I rise for communion beneath the throbbing organ notes and return to my seat still frantic.
I rest my head down to pray and as I am about to weep I feel a hand on my back.
Ma'am, we need to close the church.
Boston, why are all your churches locked?
Soul, why are you so empty?
I go back into the street, the big door closing behind me, clinging to the words on the kneeler in my pew: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.