Measured Extravagance

20 April 2003 - 7:00 p.m.

In between services this morning, a friend asked me how I was doing and nodded sympathetically when I confessed, "Easter is not easy." Singing in the choir means that it's a given I'll be present at Easter, but being there also meant being reminded at so many turns at that I am neither Jewish nor Christian.

Most days that isn't a big deal, but today I felt even more apart and alone than I did at the Lutheran service I attended on Good Friday. On Friday, I knew I was just a visitor - I didn't expect to feel a part of the community or the service. But at my own church, where I'm a full-fledged member and lay leader, I found it impossible not to feel isolated when one of this morning's speakers made several declarations beginning with "Most Unitarian Universalists believe that. . ." He may be right, but I am not "most UUs." I am not even "many UUs" much of the time.

Which is fine, at the best of times - but in the not-so-good of moods, it finds one sitting in the pew - one's usual spot, surrounded by the usual marvelous people - lips pressed tight together, internally wailing, "I don't belong here. I should be home working. Hell, I should be at home sleeping. I should be frying pancakes and slicing fruit for my husband and our guest. I should be reading and meditating on my own. I should not be sitting here stewing over the morning's stupid stuff - the someone fussing over this, the frustration over that, the competing logistics, etc, blah, aah! And why do the holidays bring out the ugly neckties in droves? And why do I have absolutely no sense of humor, and why can't I get over myself?"

And yet, and yet - and yet there was the pleasure of slipping into the linen dress I'd picked up in a thrift shop last November, and being complimented on my taste. There was arriving early, such that the only other person in the sanctuary was the pianist, and I sat there crocheting and listening with pleasure as she practiced the morning's selections. There was my friend Mary, who pointedly chirped "Chag sameach!" to what felt like a relentless barrage of "Happy Easter!"s.

Let me try to clarify: it's a fine thing to be wished "Happy Easter" by an individual truly rejoicing in the day, and I would expect to be wished "Happy Easter" were I participating in a traditional Christian celebration - and I've been known to do so, of my own free will - so I ought to be okay with being wished "Happy Easter" from the podium of the church I regularly attend. In theory, I am - but, emotionally, I'm not. Not when, to my ear, it voices a whole world of assumptions about a collective belief in a historical or metaphorical Jesus, assumptions I (and other congregants) don't necessarily share.

And yet, were you to ask me what I truly believe about Easter, it's probably not so far away from other UU interpretations of the holiday as this entry makes it sound. The truth is, I'm still working out for myself why I'm reacting so badly to this morning, given the good intentions and impossible demands upon everyone involved. Would I have felt better if the music leader had opened with "Happy Passover and Happy Easter?" or "Happy Easter, whatever it means to you?" Shouldn't I just assume that the "whatever it means to you" is implicit in all Unitarian Universalist utterances? Does it matter so much to me, that such differences be acknowledged aloud? Is it because, much as I like to pretend I know what I'm about, I'm still working out for myself where and what kind of theistic practice belongs in my life? Is it because, at a very basic level, sometimes I just get very very tired of being different and being reminded of it, even around people who think diversity is nifty, is cool, is precious?

(At an even more basic level, I should just get more sleep. I thought I had, but I still crashed hard both yesterday afternoon and today, so clearly not, and I'm definitely more querulous and fretful when I'm running behind. Ay yi yi. )

Anyhow. Interlaced with the loneliness of the morning, there were still moments of pleasure and revelation: there were the passersby fascinated by my afghan as I worked on it during my shift at the grocery table. There were birds trilling brightly through the greyness of the morning. There were the yellow, blush-tipped roses in honor of a child's thirteenth birthday. There were smiles given and hugs received. I'm still getting compliments on the script I co-wrote for the capital campaign kick-off. I've been able to snatch odd moments here and there to edit poems, and yes, to reflect on the Passion according to St. John, seized by details such as the cold ("The henchmen and servants stood about a charcoal fire to keep warm. . . ") and the protection of Jesus' mother ("From that moment on, the disciple took Mary into his care"). And there was being there to sing Mozart, and hymn #344, "A Promise Through the Ages Rings":

For something always, always sings.
This is the message Easter brings:
From deep despair and perished things
a green shoot always, always springs,
and something always, always sings.
    - Alicia S. Carpenter

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