Thursday, March 16, 2006

driving to church

This story is about me. About me sitting in Mary's sunroom looking at the sun shine through the leaves of the golden pothos vine and thinking about about driving to church as a kid, and smiling.

Mary wants me to make new stories so that my body remembers my past differently.

I smiled because when Mary asked me to change a childhood memory of my father, I immediately thought about our family going to church. Of course the trip to church. I recalled that awful ride and all the dread associated with our Sunday morning spectacle. I remember our car, old and beat up, and fighting with my brother and sister about window seats. I remember pulling into the parking lot at church and circling around to park in the back. Other people's fathers drove up and dropped them off under the awning to protect their Sunday best from the rain. I don't think Dad ever did that for us. I remember cringing and hoping nobody would be getting out of their car when we got out of ours. I remember walking across the blacktop, looking down, dreading. I remember the glass doors under the small awning that led into the vestibule. I remember the stale smell of the unused building, the striped upholstery on the bench next to the door. But I remember most clearly wanting to hide. Wanting to avoid everybody, their gaze, their implicit judgement, even their friendly greeting.

Our whole entrance into the church was uncomfortable. Our position there apparently without dignity, at least in my Father's eyes. Yes, we were poor, but more importantly, Dad felt slighted. He put on a stern, self-righteous act which became the context in which we walked. Entering the sanctuary was as difficult as arriving at the front doors. Dad chose back rows, or when he felt particularly ill-at-ease he skulked off to the balcony. He said it was because he did not want to be asked to pray.

I felt so unentitled at church, so second-rate, so much the daughter of my unhappy, grudge-bearing father.

Sitting there with the sunlight I tried to imagine us lightly getting into our car amid good-natured bickering, to ride to church peaceably, with space in our movements and ourselves. To imagine pulling into the closest parking spot to the door, like a normal family. Or getting dropped off under the awning. To imagine entering and seeing my Father smile and shake someone's hand warmly, engage in conversation without an edge or grudge. To see my Mom walk with dignity, not hiding her husband's angry inadequacy with smiles or sweetness. To hang our coats with pride. To run and find my friends and not slink away somewhere with a book to read. To enter the sactuary with my family comfortably, casually sitting in a pew near the middle of the church. With space and dignity in all our movements.

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