Sunday, July 01, 2007

"How Beautiful is the Rain" Emlee in Church

Emlee sat in the old rocker that had become a fixture on the front porch in summer for the past several seasons. There were two, but since Huck had passed away Emlee just couldn't bring herself to haul the other from the shed where the rockers had been stored for the winter under a large tarp in a valiant effort to keep them clean. Because Emlee was a good hostess she knew that her rocker would not be enough seating on the porch for those neighbors and city friends who often dropped by to visit and to simply check up on her. Losing Huck had been one of the most difficult things that she had experienced and her friends, neighbors and family knew it and they were doing their best to comfort Emlee, though it was hard for Emlee to be the recipient of such kindness. Not because she wasn't grateful, but simply because she was always the one to offer this grace to others. She was always the one with arms extended to hold someone who was crying, she was always the one to drop by with a few flowers, be they from the flower shop in town or from Huck's garden. She was the one who would spend time in the kitchen whipping up a quick dish to deliver to the home of someone grieving. She remembered having that experience referred to as the delivering of sympathy by means of a covered dish. She laughed because she knew that it was possible for green bean casserole to extend a care and concern on behalf of the person who sent it. While she knew that food was not love, she knew that food could express love, just like the flowers, just like the arms around someone crying for whatever reason their tears came.

Emlee had other chairs on the porch, none of the rest of them rocked, but they all matched the rest of the furniture on the porch, her rocker, the table. She had made chintz cushions for each of the chairs though it had been treated with laminate in case it rained, it still had a chintz pattern. She thought of when she excitedly brought the fabric from the store with such joy because she loved the pattern and it had been marked down to bargain basement price, it had flowers with birds and the birds in the print were humming birds no less. She couldn't wait to show it to Huck. Huck looked at the fabric on the roll and simply said, “you're the design department, I'm maintenance and all that other good out door stuff.” A little crestfallen, Emlee knew that Huck was right, she didn't really have the same appreciation for such things, but deep inside she wanted things pretty and nice, and she knew that Emlee would take care of such things. “You know me Em, I would have brought home some dreadful dark stripe, I married you because I love you and you have good taste. You always make me look good.”

While rocking in her porch chair with the cushion in the seat and another tied to the knobs on the back, Emlee took a deep breath and when she did she drew in the fragrance of the incense that had been used in church that morning. The price she paid for sitting so close to the aisle and sitting in the middle of the nave. When the gospel was read, she was right next to the deacon as he swung the sensor back and forth and the white smoke rose from the ornate device. It was especially pungent because she was so close to it, but when she was farther away it did have a pleasant aroma that did remind you that you were in a holy place.

Since it had been quite a while since Huck's passing Emlee thought that it was time to go back to church. She knew that it would be emotionally difficult, but she also knew that her spirit was waning and she needed the strength that she received from being in church. She had not been raised in a strict, “religious” home, as a family they believed in God, the Trinity even, church was just not a part of everyday life for her family. Emlee's family never said grace at the table, her father so often said, “If God didn't know that we were each grateful, then he wouldn't have given it to us.” Emlee understood that his statement was an admonishment to each of them to be grateful to God for what they had.

Emlee needed to go the the place where holiness inspired more talks with God, while there were those that she knew that could go and sit in the city park and feel as though they had worshiped in the cathedral of the trees, she often wondered if that was a cop out for not being disciplined enough to roll out of bed and go to church. She also realized that God was in their hearts and if they could focus, then they could worship in the park, she knew that it would be hard for here to do so, she knew as well, that it wasn't her place to make their decisions for them.

Emlee simply needed the things that church offered, a place where she was led in worship, a place where there were others who thought like she did, a place to contribute to the good of her fellow earth riders and whats more, if she met someone to care about, then all the better, it was a place for Emlee.

It was in church on a summer morning that threatened rain that Emlee met Susannah. The old red brick and limestone church was a landmark in town, it was old and everything about it reminded Emlee of the churches that she visited in the English countryside when she took a European trip while she was in college. She was so taken by the stone churches that were a part of every country village that she had to go in, she had to see the inside, she suddenly noticed that The Church of England was somewhat standard in the interior architecture. After being in the churches in several villages she learned that there were only subtle differences in the services, usually it was the priest that made the difference in the mass, all things considered, they seemed like holy places to her, shrines to a living God. The red brick church in her neighborhood was really no different. It was Episcopal was the only difference really, but they were quick to identify themselves as Anglican and in communion with The Church of England; generally speaking she never saw a picture of Queen Elizabeth when she went to this church or any other Episcopal church in the city.

The heavy oak doors were propped open on this Sunday that honored St. John the Baptist. There were dark and heavy rain clouds overhead and they bore a heaviness that gave the feeling that they would not be able to stay in the sky long, they would surely fall. Most of the people who went through the door of the church were toting umbrellas, a weather tool that Emlee didn't bring with her, though a sure symbol of faith that it would rain. She was not able to park close to the building and she knew that her madras dress would be soaked by the time church was over and she would head back to the car. It was too late now, Emlee could not run back home for such a silly thing as an umbrella at this point in time, though she lived only a few blocks away. She stepped inside the door, was welcomed by the greeter just as she dipped her fingers in the font and made the cross, reminding herself of her baptism. The greeter was patient, waiting for Emlee to finish and then she spoke a benign hello and handed Emlee the missal for the day. Emlee nodded a silent thank you as she took the booklet and turned to look to see if her usual seat was filled.

Her usual place under the window was empty and she stepped lightly on the old hardwood floor that creaked and moaned under foot. At the end of the pew she bent at the waist toward the altar, it was her custom to do so instead of genuflecting as others did, genuflecting became very difficult for Susannah as time went by, because of the chemo, getting down on one knee often was easy, getting up again was harder. Emlee slid into the pew and brought the kneeler quietly into position. She made the cross again and looked to the crucifix as she prayed. “Welcome me home sweet Jesus, draw me ever closer to your heart as I come here to renew my spirit and grow ever closer to you dear Lord.” She sat on the pew and with her hand she returned the kneeler back to it's position with great stealth, quiet was the code for one's entrance into the church. She slid across the pew as she knew that Susanna would want to sit on the end so that she could quietly escape if she needed to. “The damn chemo,” Emlee thought as she sat there before church started, the Voluntary had begun and the organ was at a loud part in the score. She simply looked to the cross again and uttered a simple addition to her prayer, “Father God, forgive me for my bitterness.” She knew that Huck was not coming and it angered her to have to sit alone.

The bells rang signaling the beginning of the service and Emlee stood for the opening hymn, the words simply could not make it to her lips, though they did make it to her heart. It was more difficult than she thought it would be, she thought that it would take her longer to feel the loneliness of not having her Huckleberry friend sitting next to her in the pew. She kept looking down at the seat to see if her beloved friend and partner was okay sitting while everyone stood, Susannah so often mentioned how funny, embarrassed even she felt because she could not stand and participate as those around her did. Emlee told her not to be silly, since she was before the Lord to worship he did not care what her posture was, just being there was the important part. After reciting this litany to Susannah several times she began to agree and understand just how true the statement was when Emlee worked to convince her. Emlee worked to instill this in Susannah because she knew that there would come a point where they would not be able to attend church any more, that the hospital chapel would be where she would do her praying, she feared that and it often brought her to tears, though always in secret, away from Susannah so that she would not be adding to her troubles, her fears.

By rote Emlee heard herself saying, “And also with you,” knowing that the priest was about to offer a prayer.

“O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help us...” said Father Gilham

Emlee was drawn back into the present with these words from the priest. With effort she focused on the response to the Psalm, she heard the reading of the Epistle. When the sub-deacon presented the gospel to Father Gilham and it was brought down from the chancel to the nave of the church, Emlee was always impressed with the way that those in the front turned and followed it as it was brought down the aisle. Each one giving a nod as it made its way past them. Lifting the book high over head Father Gilham said, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke!” It was then that the deacon began to swing the incense that permeated Emlee's thin cotton summer dress.

The smoke of the incense hung low over head, the humidity was high and it was obvious when she looked out of the windows that the rain was even closer, the leaves of the trees in the garden just outside of the church wall were turning their backs to the sky. Emlee knew that she would wish for an umbrella as she left the vestibule. Emlee thought back to when she met Susannah in this very place and it was a day not unlike this one. There were inky menacing clouds when she arrived at the church that Sunday. The doors were propped open just as they were at this very moment. The trees that lined the cobblestone walk that went from the street to the door were under a canopy of summer leaves. The weather had been very hot and dry, rain was something that everyone was crying out for and now the trees and flowers were crying as well. When she entered the church the air felt as though it were made of glue, it was sticky and uncomfortable and the old red brick church had not been graced with air conditioning, so the week's worth of humidity was still bottled up inside even though it was being stirred now by fans. It seemed that their job was hopeless.

On that hot and humid Sunday, it was the silent prayer from many that rain would come and that it would come in quantity. Many had brown and crispy lawns and there were droopy flowers in flower beds. The city had announced that they could not allow sprinkling. This didn't upset Emlee, though she did want it to rain, she knew how important it was to everyone's wellbeing. Father Gilham said the blessing for dismissal and the congregation responded, “Thanks be to God.” On this hot Sunday, his dismissal didn't sound like celebration, it sounded more like word from the governor. Everyone sat down as the organ voluntary began, the daily missals doubling as fans and the congregation was praying that the organist would be merciful, since he was high aloft, where the law of heat was well represented, he obliged. The last note still in the air, the faithful stood and headed for the doors, scattering in every direction to get relief from the stagnant air of the sanctuary.

Emlee moved to the street entrance and when she arrived the sky had opened and rain fell straight down from heaven. She was grateful for her simple cotton dress, sleeveless and cool. She stood just inside of the heavy oaken doors when Susannah came to stand next to her. Complete strangers, Emlee looked out on the falling rain, it came heavily to the ground, and no one was complaining, even those who, like herself, had not brought umbrellas.

“How beautiful is the rain! After the dust and heat,” Emlee recited from an old poem that she remembered from junior high school.

“In the broad and fire street,” Susannah chimed in with a great smile as Emlee looked at her, two strangers watching the rain.
“And in the narrow lane,” said Emlee as she took her turn.
“How beautiful is the rain,” they chanted together.

Emlee without ceremony or pretense put her arm around Susannah and said, “How wonderful that you remember such things.” Then she darted into the street and rain, twirled in a circle as her full skirt filled with air, doing the same dance of a little girl in a new dress.

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