June 08, 2011
A wretch like me
It was still cold when I walked down to the mountain lake: I was wearing a fleece and hoping the rising sun would warm my bare legs. I stopped at a coffeehouse in town to buy a strawberry-banana smoothie, which I drank on a little deck that looked over the lake.
I was thinking about Artist Friend, whose father died last week. I didn’t go to the funeral because he lives too far away, but I wanted to take some time to honor him. I’d tried taking a walk in my own woods the day I got the email about his death, but the swarms of mosquitoes prevented me from having a contemplative moment. This mountain lake, with its mirror-like surface, seemed a calmer place to put my thoughts.
My hair was still wet from the shower, which made me shiver as I walked. Every once in a while the sun would come bursting out from behind the clouds, and the lake would slip into shining, like a roll of aluminum foil that’s escaped from the box. A single kayak moved across the lake. I followed the path along the water, walking past summer cottages that weren’t yet open for the season.
When I came to the stone church, I realized that I’d been inside it before, more than 30 years ago — that time in high school when I went winter camping with a gang of teenagers. We’d been joking and laughing on the car ride into the mountains, but when we came to this town, the oldest girl (she must have been 18) said quietly, “Let’s go into the church and say a prayer before we hike up the mountain. It’s a tradition.” I still remember that moment: all of us in our bulky winter clothes and heavy hiking boots, sitting on the wooden pews to say a prayer before leaving our cars at the trailhead and putting on our packs.
On this June morning, the church wasn’t empty. I could hear a woman’s voice coming from the pulpit as I walked in. I’d forgotten that it was Sunday. The old woman in the last pew smiled and moved over a little to make room for me. The congregation prayed together, and I liked the refrain they kept using: “Holy God, Holy One, Holy Three.”
I could feel my hair getting curly as it dried. A man sat down at an old wooden piano and began to play. I recognized the hymn right away: “Amazing Grace.” It’s one that always makes me cry. I stayed until the minister in the dark print dress told us the service was over, and then I slipped quietly out the front door.
The sun was still chasing clouds across the surface of the lake. I thought of the time that Artist Friend came to visit me, and we sat watching the ripples of Round Lake as we talked. We saw a watersnake that day, moving toward us. I hoped that after the funeral service, he’d go fishing with his son maybe, or walking along a riverbank. By then, the air was getting warm. I took off my fleece and tied it around my waist, and let the breeze from the lake dry my hair.
Posted by jo(e)