I thought I was going to follow Saturday’s post with one on Ways I Would Like to Appear on the News but something happened (divine intervention?) to change that. This is a story of embarrassment, minor religious epiphany, and what NOT to do when confronted with the laws of physics in church. I hope that’s peaked your interest enough, because this is going to be a long one.
(Ahem.) Bless me blog for I have sinned, I have something to confess…
I went to church with my mom and grandma on Sunday. I haven’t been in a while but yesterday I woke up and did the whole church-y shebang. Mom and Grandma and I slowly made our way up the handicap ramp (or “grandma ramp” as it’s called by a certain relative of mine), sat down in our usual spot to the left of the altar, and did the obligatory nod-and-smile at our pew neighbors. We whispered about the lack of heat and fidgeted closer to each other as we waited for the priest to arrive. I knocked grandma’s cane over twice, causing an echoed BANG, and a few glances in our direction from people praying nearby. (Made you look!)
Pretty soon I was bored as all get-out, which is also a standard Sunday occurrence. I started playing a little game I like to call Free Will. This is when you pick out who has been brought to church against their will and who came on their own accord. Usually you can count young children and teenagers in that first group, sometimes disgruntled spouses. You look for who’s spacing out, who brought their own bible, who’s singing the songs, who’s eating cheerios.
As you may have guessed, this game was inspired by personal experience. Except for when I was away at school, I’ve pretty much attended church every Sunday of my life—barring the occasional vacation or holy sick day, of course. If this sounds impressive and like I’m a devoted Christian (or more specifically, Catholic,) don’t bless me quite yet. My church attendance record has been motivated more by a love for my grandma and mom than for a higher power. Going to church makes them happy, gives them some sort of peace, so going to church as a family seems like the very least I can do for them. Ironically, my grandma can’t hear half the time, my mom does her own “spiritual reflection” while the priest is speaking, and I tend to drift off into an endless, fascinating maze of daydreaming. The three of us probably wouldn’t pass a test on what the sermon was about, but if living, breathing bodies count for anything then we’ll get our rewards in heaven.
So instead of listening to Father D (he doesn’t really go by that, that would be too cool, I just didn’t want to use his God-given name) I was in deep philosophical thought on existence and religion and family. I had just concluded that my religion was my own and that the Catholic Church doesn’t have as strong a hold on me as my mother and grandmother when it was time for communion. Grandma whispered that she wasn’t going up (she wasn’t feeling great that day and wasn’t feeling up for the walk to the front of the church) so I side-stepped around her and followed my mom out of the pew. Grandma doesn’t skip communion very often, but when she does I usually break half of my holy bread in half and give it to her. I have no idea if that’s kosher with the church or not, but it’s something that my aunt started doing years ago and that I’ve kept up.
So it gets to be my turn at the front of the line. Father D’s helper does the “Body of Christ” and I respond “Amen.” I know the drill. Turning to head back to my pew, I also surreptitiously (like a Catholic ninja) start to break the wafer in my hand. Instead of a neat break and a quick exit, the thing slipped from my cupped hand and fell to the floor behind me. I started to turn back around, then sort of froze. It was right at the feet of Father D’s helper. He was in the middle of placing a communion on the tongue of the man who had been behind me in line, but now he followed my line of sight. This made the man whose tongue was partway out of his face look too.
Remember how I said my fight or flight instincts need a tune-up? Well, I saw that piece of holy bread on the floor, I was aware that others were aware that I had dropped it, I knew it was a big no-no to do that……..but I panicked. I mean, I panicked. Instead of picking the thing up like a reasonable person, I just turned around and went back to my pew. Shit, shit, shit, shit. I silently blasphemed with each step. When I sat down, I sort of whispered to my grandma what had happened. “YOU DROPPED IT?” Shoot, wrong ear—her left hearing aid hasn’t been working all week. “THAT’S SACRELIGIOUS! DID YOU PICK IT UP? …WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO??” By this point, anyone who had not seen my epic clumsiness and scaredy-cat reaction could now piece the story together. Grandma might as well have rang the church bells and shouted like Quasimodo.
The nod-and-smile couldn’t get me out of this one. I dropped my head and pretend to pray. But when I looked back up to the front of the church, all of the cute little altar boys were blatantly pointing and laughing at me. They weren’t even trying to subtly nudge their neighbors and point out the girl with the butter fingers and red face—they went for attention-grabbing, shame-bringing mockery instead. I bowed my head again, but my fingernails were digging into my palms and my neck was heating up and it’s hard to look worshipful under those circumstances.
Luckily, mass was almost over. When the last traitorous altar boy had walked up the aisle, I hustled over to the scene of the crime to see if the bread was still there. It wasn’t. Maybe one of the boys had picked it up, or Father D’s helper, or Father D himself. God giveth, and God taketh away…
All I know is that I thought Catholic Guilt was nothing compared with Grandma Guilt–but they both pack a pretty hard punch. Turns out, though my religion may be my own, I have enough Catholic in me to be properly appalled by my hot-potato, holy bread experience.
After she was done being loud and dismayed, Grandma got a chuckle out of the whole thing. At brunch, she raised her coffee cup and looked at me sternly over the rim. “God will get you for that, Walter!”