I always did arrive extra super neurotically early to prepare for performances, so I show up at 7:45 for an 8:15 call time.  Only Kevin the choir director is there ahead of me setting up microphones.  I say hello to him and perch on the piano bench to hunt for a part in the music I struggled with in our final rehearsal.  He comes and reviews it with me.  My post-concussive symptoms were brutal through that two-hour rehearsal, I struggled to see the music and feared an impending migraine.  I focus; I want to sing this properly.

The rest of the ensemble arrives.  We warm up together and run the music.  We sing in Hebrew before the first night of Hanukkah while the board operators work and the ministers set up.  Finally we stand as the congregation filters in for the first service.  I used to feel nervous before performing; now I am disturbingly numb.  I care, I think, eyeing Kevin the choir director and the women assembled beside me.  I care, but I can’t feel it.  I stand, stiff and unsmiling.  I wait.

Reverend Brett starts the service and then we sing.  I give what I have to give.  We sit, and Reverend Slack lights the chalice in dedication;

“To the process of becoming more whole, of living more fully;
Of giving and forgiving more freely;
Of understanding more completely the meaning of our lives here on this earth.”

He speaks about the significance of advent in the Christian tradition, about the dedication for the first candle, a candle of hope.  I fight tears as he speaks–tears of fear and hopelessness.  I blink and struggle to breathe and tilt my head up, conscious that I’m wearing makeup I’d rather not ruin.  Then I fix my eyes on the man standing before me in his blue suit and beautiful rainbow stole.  I feel no hope, but I watch him light the candle, dreads swinging.  I blink and blink the tears back, willing myself to trust that others are holding space for hope on my behalf as I have done for others in different times.  Next Kevin and Reverend Grove light the candle for the first night of Hanukkah.  I recover my composure as my choir director sings the unfamiliar blessing in Hebrew.

There is special music, and it’s new to me.  LeiLana sings;

I met a prophet dark as the night
She could see into my soul
Said she’s been watching and had some advice
She said shadows make you whole.
A life without pain is a wolf in sheep’s clothes
Cause if you listen to the lessons that it holds
You’ll find the gold.

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt.
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
You cannot fly until you break the shell.

I can remember when I was a child
How the grown folks seemed so crazy.
Why are they so angry, why are they so loud?
And when I grow up that’s never ever gonna be me
That was the moment that I decide
That I would build a wall just shy of six feet tall
Too strong to fall.

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but its meant to be felt.
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
You cannot fly until you break the shell.

Oh, god does it hurt.  I stop struggling and let the tears roll down my cheeks.  I dab at them carefully and wipe them onto my skirt, but I sit there and suffer profoundly wondering if I might be one of those birds whose shell is too dense to break.  I don’t trust that I will not break instead.  I’m frightened and it hurts; I sit there in my pretty clothes ruining my makeup with my mourning.

Reverend Slack’s sermon is about social justice and disrupting, rather than accepting, demeaning behaviors.  He tells a story about Maya Angelou calmly removing a party guest for telling a racist joke.  It’s a beautiful, difficult, moving sermon that makes me cry a few more times–and then we have to sing again.  Reverend Slack sits just behind me.  I turn slightly to look at him for strength as we prepare.  He is calm and dignified.  I take a deep breath and direct my attention to Kevin standing before us, and I do the best I can.

I catch myself singing through a couple of rests.  Come on, Laura.  Read.  I do the best I can.

After the service Ivy comes to hug me, and then I have rehearsal for a jazz quintet and the membership book signing.  I stand at the piano and work until I can see everyone assembled in the chapel for the new members’ service, then I excuse myself and hurry to join the group.  I settle between Reverend Grove and a couple joining together who I wish I didn’t resent.  My quintet rehearses behind us as our circle takes turns telling what we’re looking for in this spiritual home.  I’m swirling between presence, noticing the rehearsal I’m missing, grief–and gratitude that the cacophony of my involvement today is disrupting some of my anguish over not having Kevin here with me as we’d planned.  I stand for a picture in which I attempt to manage some semblance of a smile.

We stand again at the chancel while the sanctuary fills for the second service.  I spot Lea wearing bright colors.  I notice children in holiday dresses. Dave sits near the windows and it takes me a while to recognize her, still and unsmiling.  Kim waves at me, and I’m pleased to see she came.  I continue to scan the arriving crowd with some anxiety and then I realize I’m looking for Kevin.  Of course he won’t be coming; why am I looking for him?  Because I love him and miss him and I can’t let go of wanting him to be wherever I am; it hurts.

I look down at my ring and then up at Kevin the choir director.  I take a deep breath and try to focus.


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