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That’s me in the corner

December 8, 2014

You don’t usually think of New York as the place you go to find religion, but there’s plenty of religion of all kinds to be had here. My particular brand involves being led by the ears to the choir loft and staying for…something else. Not always the same thing.

Our parish church has become one of my great pleasures. We started going out of a sense of obligation when the parish school agreed to take AJ even though they didn’t have room for him. We hadn’t been churchgoers in a long time, not since I was paid to sing in the Franciscan church near my Chicago office. And even then, I was more of a merchant for hire. But now,most Sundays my fiddle and I are up in the choir loft with the Russian organist. I’m not paid at all, but I play a solo for the offertory every week. I don’t practice a lot. Often just an hour the day before. But I also don’t play anything terribly hard most of the time. And the more I play, the more I enjoy it.

It’s not just the playing, though. It’s also the people. I love the organist. I love the tenor who comes to join us sometimes, the one who works as a nurse and has a voice that just shreds me when I’m least expecting it. I love the one woman from the choir who comes to everything and always smiles and squeezes your hand after the Our Father. She’s always the last to leave, staying to clean up all the things that everyone else has forgotten about. I love our pastor, who is retiring in a month. I love that he came to our house, climbing all the way up to the fourth floor just to talk to AJ before he made his first communion several years behind schedule. I love his Brooklyn accent, the way his hair flops over his forehead even though he’s in his 70s, and the way he manages to work the Mets into his homilies during baseball season.

And I love the parishioners. The woman who is the unofficial hostess of the early Mass, who says hello and asks how I am every Sunday when I sneak down the wooden stairs and slip in the back of the church to make it up to the altar for communion in time to get back to the loft for the second verse. I love the young man who stands for the entire service hiding his entire face behind a prayer book. I love the man who plays the drums because after having a stroke while playing the French horn, he had to find another way to be musical.

Tonight, after the evening Mass for the Immaculate Conception, a man hurried up the aisle towards us as we were packing up. “I’m just a visitor here — my daughter had a baby yesterday (the church is across the street from a hospital) — but I had to tell you the music was wonderful,” he said. “You made my day. And the baby too, of course.” It’s a small thing, but we are all there because it means something to us. So when one person takes the time to tell you it means something to them too, well, it’s nice to hear. I was smiling out into the cold night, smiling when, as I turned onto my block, I heard the bell in the corner store ring, smiling up all the stairs to the fourth floor.

If you ask me, this is one of the best paying gigs I’ve ever had.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2014 1:17 pm

    that’s beautiful

  2. the other theo permalink
    December 9, 2014 7:45 pm

    Being a wander between various Church communities for the last few years (and settling on one for many of the same reasons you did), it’s always a beautiful thing when you finally cross that invisible bridge between “visitor” and “member”.

  3. December 9, 2014 8:18 pm

    Jealous! I horribly miss my church in New York, and I still haven’t found one I like down here. The sweet Jesuit who confirmed me after college has died. The other priests are sooooooo conseeeeeeervative.

  4. December 10, 2014 6:38 am

    Lovely, lovely post, I am smiling too.

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