An Episcopal church. A weekday. It’s an ornate building with flickering votives in the corner. The door was unlocked so I came inside. Nobody seemed to notice me, so I pulled up a pew.
There are only two people in this chapel. Across the aisle is an older woman. Her hair is white, her head is down. Behind her is a young scruffy-looking man, head also down.
I wasn’t raised Episcopalian, but I like pretty churches. Plus, Piskies are always good about letting you just pop in and hang out with no strings attached. If I would have popped into a Baptist church they would have already signed me up for nursery duty.
But if I’m being truly honest, I came to this ornate place because I was hoping to get a column out of the deal. These words don’t just write themselves, and I needed inspiration.
Inspiration has been hard to come by this last year. Some mornings I wake up happy as a bumblebee. Other days, I wake up still feeling the weight of last years’ chaos lingering.
A lot of little changes have occurred in my life since the pandemic. Too many changes to list in one column. Changes like, for example, my pants don’t fit anymore. Also I’m getting more stray gray hairs. And some nights I fall asleep before “Matlock” is even over.
It’s quiet in here. I’m staring at the backlit stained glass and I decide to try my hand at praying.
My problem, of course, is that I am horrible at prayer. Don’t call on me to say grace at your barbecue, I get so nervous I start reciting the preamble to the Constitution and I require an emergency Miller Lite.
The only real examples of prayer during my fundamentalist childhood came from my uncle Tommy Lee, who was an amateur Missionary Baptist preacher. He treated prayer like an improvised Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solo. He’d say grace and just keep talking until someone’s mother finally passed out from low blood sugar.
I bow my head. I attempt to whisper a few words.
I’m offering sentiments for some loved ones who recently died. I’ve lost three elderly loved ones within 30 days. It hit me kind of hard. My mother always said death comes in threes. I guess it really does.
I can’t seem to make the words come out today. I’m at a loss. So I end up falling silent. Silence usually works for me. I remember my uncle used to have a huge largemouth bass mounted in his garage with a brass plaque beneath it that read: “None of this would’ve happened if I’d kept my big mouth shut.”
Words to live by.
After my moment of silence, I’m about to leave when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn to see the young scruffy man is approaching.
He wears board shorts, a loose tank top exposing his spindly arms, a long beard, and Birkenstocks. He has the hardened tan of a beach guy. Or maybe he’s homeless.
The young man asks if he can sit next to me.
I smile. But it’s my ultra-polite smile. I didn’t come here to play patty cake.
“Sure,” I say.
He sits. He says nothing. He only looks at the altar. And I’m pretty weirded out right now. What is he doing? What are we doing?
We are quiet for a few minutes. And I’m a little put off that my personal space has just been invaded. Also, not to be picky, but this kid could use some serious Speed Stick.
Finally, the kid says, “May I pray for you, sir?”
His accent sounds Russian. Or maybe Czech. There is dirt beneath his fingernails. His sandals are falling apart. He wears a smart watch, so I don’t think he’s homeless. But you never know.
I am feeling out of my comfort zone, and I’m ready to leave. But I tell him to go ahead and pray for me. Why not?
We bow our heads. But the young man says nothing. He just closes his eyes. I can hear him breathe. He looks like he’s muttering things in a Slavic tongue, but no sound comes out.
I can tell this young man is sincere. Very sincere. I wonder what he’s saying on my behalf. Hopefully it’s good stuff.
He finishes with an amen. Then he lays a bony hand on my shoulder. The kid says nothing more to me. No “God bless you,” no “Take care.” He simply leaves without a word.
Next, he approaches the older woman seated ahead. I hear him ask her the same. “May I pray for you?” She allows him to do what he just did with me. No words. Just a prayer and a touch on the shoulder.
Then I watch him hoist a backpack and walk out of the sanctuary. And he’s gone.
And do you know what I’m thinking in this quiet moment? I’m thinking, boom, there’s my column.