Thursday, April 1, 2010

Washing away

I used to live in New Haven. At the time I loved the place. My friends couldn't wait to get out on the weekends, they hated the place, said it was too small, to poor, to f*cked up. But, being rooted in rural life for 18 years, I loved the city, any city. I even lived in Worcester for four years, and I miss it still (although they did cuff a guy on my porch after a foot chase. I watched the whole thing crouched down in front of my window). Knowing life happens all around me is a comfort, more so than the utter silence of remote locations. I prefer the human mess to the false purification of nature.
Back to New Haven. I went to a Methodist church every Sunday, I was even in the gospel choir (yes, if you look at the pictures I am one of about 3 white folks, and the tiniest one to boot). I didn't go to make up for my Saturday night activities, which always involved booze and almost always involved an older post-doc man from a different country. I didn't go to keep face. I went because I liked the walk from my apartment to the church. Hardly anyone was on the street, the bums were out having coffee, my shoes made an authoritative sound against the cobblestone.
And I liked the people. Actually, I loved the people. In the week leading up to Easter that place was filled to overflowing with activity. The choir rehearsed every night for the Easter service, we baked sh*t in tiny kitchenettes, enough to feed hundreds of folks.
Amidst the bustle, and trying to negotiate my messed up life as a too-young grad student at Yale, I found the strangest peace. On Holy Thursday, there was an afternoon service and I went, having no f*cking clue what "Maundy Thursday" meant. About mid-way through, the ushers came up the aisles with tubs of water and towels. The man sitting next to me, a friend of mine who attended seminary, turned to me with the most earnest expression.
"May I wash your feet?"
And, despite my O.C.D. holy sh*t reaction, I said yes. And it was thus far the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for me. Here was a stranger, filled with enough compassion and patience, who saw my brokenness (and the chipped toenail polish) and tried to fix it, at least for that day.
It continues to humble me.

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