Evensong at the Church of Saint Thomas, Orange, Virginia
I walk up the stairs passing the others, their newly-washed bodies fragrant
with perfumes and soaps. I nod my head to greet them, but do not speak,
my New York tongue kept silent in a foreign town. Inside the church a pale
yellow light, the odor of dusty cushions, old glue on hymnals, beeswax
from the morning worship. A stained glass image of Christ transfigured
with arms outstretched looks towards me; a polished cross sears the darkness,
its radiance a recital of candles.
My mind wanders inside the vapors of sound and candlelight, it pierces time’s
membrane, and once again, I am kneeling in the convent of Saint Hilda. Evening
spills through opened windows, sounds of taxis, shouts of children playing
nearby, the familiar talk of friends gone, a thousand fathoms away. I am alone,
alone in a city of a million lives.
In the required silence, I unlock the convent door, walk six blocks to the café,
sit down, order coffee, spread my arms and elbows out as far as they might reach
to touch the strangers on either side of me. I feel the warmth of their bodies
through my sweater, the unction of their presence. I sip slowly, willingly,
the bitter-sweet coffee.
Clothed in red gowns and white cassocks, the choir flows with song and ceremonial
march down the nave of the church. I watch a white-haired woman shuffle slowly
behind the line of procession; in one hand she carries a handbag, in the other a cane.
She looks confused, examines each pew, searches for someone she might know.
An arm reaches out to touch her shoulder and draws her into the pew. Her face
is transcendent as she kisses the hand of a stranger, as if she has known him all her life.