After my late breakfast, I drove the truck across town to St. Astrid’s. The Angelican church was small, but beautiful building. I liked to sit on the ridge above and watch the people leave Sunday service. The pastor would stand at the door and shake the hand of each parishioner with an enthusiastic smile. He would call each person by name and always seemed to remember details about what was going on in their lives. If I was religious, I wouldn’t mind having a shepherd like the one at St. Astrid’s. That’s what they were called right? Andi had told me once.
Since I overslept, services were long over, but I could still sit on the shifting sands and admire the architecture. I often wondered what the inside of the old-fashioned stone building looked like – beyond the double doors. I supposed I could’ve attended a service, but church had never really been my thing. Nonno and Nonna were Jacoban and attended mass. Mamma had never insisted we attend church, although when my parents were together, we attended the Angelican services.
I supposed I was being nostalgic, remembering better days. Mamma and Dad had been happy when I was little, at least I thought they were. Dad sat me on his shoulders during a candlelight service once so I could see what was happening and Mamma put her arm around us. Carina had been in an Easter parade. I smiled remembering the fuss she made because she tore her spring dress. Andi had been an angel in a Christmas play one year.
I strained to remember the actual services as I sat cross-legged and observed the patio below. I thought about walking down and climbing the willow tree. Perhaps I’d feel closer to a god in the tree. I remembered something about praying and singing songs and praising the Father above. I always thought it was weird that people praised an unseen god. How did that work exactly?
Andi had tried to explain it to me once – that even though Padre was unseen, he was still real. If I closed my eyes and let go of my ties to the world, and if I waited, I would feel his presence or something like that. The only thing I felt was the heat of the sun beating down on my back.
I thought about sunscreen and how I should’ve applied it because my neck and shoulders were probably getting burnt. I thought about how I was still hungry and I probably should’ve borrowed money from Dad to buy a bigger meal or I shouldn’t have spent as much money on the new air conditioning tube and groceries for the house. I thought about how the groceries were probably roasting in the vehicle and how I should drive home and put things away. I thought about how silly it was for me to sit here in the sand watching a church but refusing to go in and hoping to somehow connect with some unseen god out there somewhere that apparently a lot of people believed in. I thought about the red rocks and the yellow sand and the green trees and the gray building. Those things I could see. Those things I could feel and touch. This god of Andi’s, of Dad’s, of Nonno’s and Nonna’s… I just couldn’t figure him out.
Still, I couldn’t deny there was something peaceful about sitting way out here on the outskirts of town, staring at an empty church in the middle of the day with no one around. Perhaps there was something spiritual about it too.
I believed in spirits, right? I could feel something moving all around and through me if I concentrated hard enough. Life energies, I could call them. That felt safer than attaching the name of a god. That felt more comfortable. That felt less lonely and distant than an unseen god because if there was one thing I discovered sitting out here day after day, observing the church like an outsider, it was that I was alone. Sure, Dad was at the camper, albeit sleeping, but we spent less time together now than we did when we were back in the Valley. So I did things alone. I ate alone. I drank alone. I walked alone. I read alone. I played alone. I worked alone. I shopped alone. I slept alone.
I was alone. In the course of the summer, I had learned one very important thing… one is the loneliest number.
This is the second episode in Interludes & Solitude, Lucky Palms edition.