Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lessons and Carols

Lessons and Carols --our particularly Anglican form of Midnight Mass-- takes place Christmas Eve and I've been invited to participate as a lector by reading one of the nine appointed lessons all of which lead up to the birth of Christ. I am, of course, incredibly honored. I'm also moved because it is such a stark contrast from my most vivid Christmas Eve memory, 8 years ago.

I was 19 and miserable.

I had been miserable for years and had no idea that I wouldn't be miserable forever. I was living alone in my small college town in the mountains, suffering from my first broken heart and living on nightly fry-ups of onions and potatoes. It was all I could afford on the $5.20 an hour I made at the local bookstore. It was also my first Christmas alone.

I had to work on Christmas Eve and again the day after Christmas, but one of my uncles was scheduled to pick me up from the bookstore--I had no car at that point-- and take me to the big family celebration in Annapolis, a few hours away. I got a series of calls saying he would be late. But he never showed up. Retrospect tells me he had been drinking, and that it was ridiculous to volunteer to get me in the first place, especially as the rain that had fallen earlier in the morning was quickly turning to ice.

I had been holding it all together --just barely-- trying to get through 'til Christmas and when I realized I had been either forgotten or neglected (other family members swear this isn't true, and that's fine. It doesn't matter now) I just lost it. I had kept going, kept my spirit in tact just by sheer will for months and finally I crumbled.

I felt the overwhelming need to go to church. I had only been to the local Episcopal church a few times before, and never did I feel especially welcome.

I remember I wore black velvet heels and a long black wool cape that I'd been given and which had always embarrassed me because well, it was a cape. Wrapped up and sobbing uncontrollably I negotiated the two miles of icy hills and empty streets in the dark.

Everything was dark. I was dark, the sky was dark, and the streets were dark because there were no students left in town. I arrived at Emmanuel a shivering, snotty, quivering mess and as I got to the door I was greeted by two old priests decked in bright red vestments and capes just like mine.

I don't know why that made me so happy, the fact that we were wearing the exact same capes, but it did. I felt welcome. I felt like I was part of something.

The church was lit up in all its glory, there were evergreen boughs stuffed into every corner and candles burning on every flat surface. Incense --frankincense and myrrh plumed in the slightly over-warmed sanctuary. People were bustling and chatting and there was a buzz of excitement. It was then that I caught the first true whiff of Christmas.


Anonymous Mary Ann said...

Great story-- thanks!

1:05 PM  

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