I lived in Virginia for almost five years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 17. One of the amazing things about being there (so many amazing things, so many wonderful people) is that for the first time in my life I was a part of a real parish. It was (is) a beautiful place, the prettiest church in the diocese of Arlington, wonderful parishioners, orthodox priests, a good school, and a congregation that only once clapped in the middle of mass (because the priest had just announced that there would be confession available everyday). I didn’t know that there were still places in our country where the faith is so real and so widely and genuinely witnessed.
It was through the choir there that I made my first real friends in Virginia, shortly after my move down from New England. Some of those friends would be my roommates, and, a year and a half later, my now-husband found a home with some of the others when he moved down from New England. It was with my priest in that church that I discerned, more clearly and effectively than ever before, that I did not have a religious vocation. It was in that church that my husband and I promised to marry each other, long before we were even close to formally engaged, and it was that parish that gave him the job that meant we could be married. And it was those same friends who sang for our wedding. It was that same dear priest who prepared us for marriage, and last December, it was with those priests and that congregation that we celebrated Midnight Mass, and wept a little, with our U-Haul fully-packed and waiting for us in the parking lot.
We were moving home, you see. We’re both New Englanders at heart, and we missed our winters, and my family, and the snow and mountains and small towns. We’d been perching in Virginia for too long, and it was such a good place to be, but it wasn’t home. Except for St. Rita parish. And my heart had done that thing it does, and put down roots there, and it was so hard to leave.
It didn’t help that for three weeks in between places, I was in New York dealing with some medical stuff. Our whole life in bags and boxes, not knowing where exactly we’d end up or what to tell people when they asked for our address, and me all drugged up on stuff that made me feel disconnected and suspended from whatever reality was anyway. Home and job and life in limbo, not sure where we were going to land, and praying that God would keep on keeping an eye out for us.
We did find a house to rent, and jobs worked out exactly as we wished, and we ended up in the small town in New Hampshire that was our very first choice. And we’re a little nervous, because our lives have changed so dramatically and so much for the good in the last month, that we wonder what God is buttering us up for. And yet… I miss St. Rita’s. And the parish church in town is nice, but it isn’t home.
It’s snowing today. Not hard; just enough to make things pretty, and to make me feel like a kid. It’s been doing this on and off for two days now, and I just want to sit by the window and watch it and forget about work and unpacking boxes. My husband’s spiritual director keeps a picture of himself as a little boy on his desk in the rectory. He’s an old, old priest, ordained in the 1950’s, and he says he keeps this picture of himself as a reminder of what we look like to God. God’s kids, he says. Not even children. Just, kids. And boy have I felt that way lately. For one thing, being back in a place where I was a kid, doing things routinely that I haven’t done routinely since I was a kid, seeing all the “grown-ups” with whom I’m now a grown-up, and stubbornly still addressing them by their last names. My oldest nephew is at the same school I was when I was his age, and has the same Sister teaching him to play recorder (Poor lady! How many more decades does she have to go through this?). And my youngest sister is in her first year of high school, looking exactly like I did when I was her age and going to the same high school, and certainly ever so much more dramatic than I ever was at her age.
All this feeling like a kid (nauseatingly nostalgic) but worried like a grown-up, because actually, you know, bills and cleaning and taxes, and something was still off, and I didn’t feel home. So we decided, after giving the church in town a chance, that we’d drive the next Sunday the winding 50 minutes to Nashua and see if the new Latin Mass Parish was all that.
And then, something happened.
There was a little boy, the smallest altar boy up there, and of course he was the one tasked with moving the enormous missal. And as he stood swaying, top-heavy and trembling with effort, eyes fixed firmly on the spot up the steps where he’d deposit his weighty prize, Jamey and I started giggling. And just in a flash I could see our little boys, somewhere off in the distant future, scrawny and striving, swaying little soldiers of Christ, up there on His altar steps. And Jamey, of course, thought of his spiritual director, and realized that that’s what we all look like to God. Little kids, balanced precariously on the last step, possibly ready to faint away with the effort, but so determined to hang on with all our over-sized burdens.
When I was a kid, my parents drove us four hours every Sunday to get us to a Latin Mass. My brothers were all altar boys, all started out like that little boy. Many’s the time I’ve seen the young ones topple over with the missals, the candles(!), or out of sheer exhaustion or a forgotten snack during the Easter Vigils and Midnight Masses. My dad used to tell them: “You are soldiers and pageboys in the court of the King. Stand tall, stand strong. Respect Him.” And all of that came rushing back, watching that little boy last Sunday. That church is my childhood, my family, my ancient and newly-learned form of words and beauty. And now, God willing, it can be home and family to a new generation.
Gotta go: choir practice tonight!