Post 6: "As Sure As I'm Standing Here"
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
School is a dangerous place for someone with a vivid imagination but yet trained at staying invisible. It didn’t work in the dog-eat-dog classroom culture that existed at St. Colman’s School. Every class needs its sacrificial lamb. I successfully held this title for three years: enthroned as “moron” (a derivative of Moira I was assured) or “Zombie” (before they were so en vogue as they are now). I was avoided and I avoided people as much as possible.
My sanctuary was literally the church.
St. Colman’s Church is an absolutely gorgeous church, huge and stunning, constructed by Irish immigrant smartasses who wanted to show off that their church was bigger and grander than them all. You hear their voices echoing from the pinnacles of church: “Whose church is the baddest? Huh? Huh? Damn right!”
The Irish built St. Colman’s to hold 1,000 people, with 130-foot bell towers and featuring a baptismal font, pulpit and a communion rail imported from Ireland and an altar crafted in Italy. Christ, walking up those front steps felt like crawling up the slopes of the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza.
However, such beauty was worth it all. Walking through that church, looking at the marble carvings and paintings, even not knowing what they meant, was a transcendent experience – I felt this even as a 10-year-old. The air was thick with mysterium tremendum – overwhelming mystery – as if you were stepping back in time, or into eternity. Or perhaps the incense was a tad too thick? Or maybe I just watched a little too much Twilight Zone?
Even the shadows cast by the statues warned of angels watching unawares. Often I would sneak in during lunch break. I hid behind the altarpiece, where the tabernacle was. The tabernacle contained the consecrated hosts representing the Body and Blood of Christ, which the altar boys called “the cookie jar.” I waited to see what would happen.
Would an alarm go off announcing the presence of an intruder? Would I be electrocuted by an lightning jolt of a guarding angel? Reduced to unidentifiable bone fragments? Nothing happened, except I relaxed in the silence. To me it wasn’t just silence. The silence felt alive with memory. It seemed to whisper and I tried to listen. Or I just sat there. I discovered a convenient place to hide from the hazards of the schoolyard.
I just wanted to feel safe.
Before “altar girls” were permitted in the Catholic Church, “Father What-a-Waste” (what the older girls called the drop-dead handsome associate pastor who served as youth minister) allowed another girl and me to assist at a noon mass attended by exactly five old ladies.
After the mass, these five biddies go to the senior priest, Father Haas, old as Moses, with their panties in a bunch. Girls at the altar! The end of the world is near! Next thing, “Father What-a-Waste” tells us very apologetically we can’t serve mass anymore. There was no further explanation given to us.
Fr. Haas never reached out to us personally. Never once, in the seven years I attended St. Colman’s, do I ever remember him saying hello to me or my classmates. It was as if we didn’t exist.
However, it was too late. Those twenty minutes at the altar awakened something in me that refused to be silenced, by Fr. Haas or even by the Handbook. It was just a few notes. A chord. A haunting melody. It sang to me, “This is where you belong.” In Church. “
What can you do in church, you stupid girl” sneered my assembled inner Politburo, comprised of the best Pricks and Prickesses that hell can create. This internalized ensemble reinforced the work of their colleagues in my external environment. I voiced the opinion that I wanted to make a difference in the world, perhaps in the church – to which the Politburo texted back: LMAO (Laughing my ass off, for my non-texting friends).
Texting, along with all the catchy text message abbreviations, did indeed exist decades before smart phones came on the scene. Survivors and creative people did and do all the time in their imagination. Conversations fly back and forth in our minds all the time with our tormentors, rescuers, even fragments of songs and stories slip across the enemy line. It’s a hard habit to break, though. Sometimes my daughter looks at me and says, “Mom, are you talking to yourself again?”
One does need to be careful: you might call the attention of the nice people in white coats if you “text” these days without a real phone in hand.
I hung onto those opening notes for dear life.
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