I’ll be in church this morning.

Behold this silver-haired devil in the pink and white checked shirt with blue summer blazer and pale-blue tie dotted with pink flamingos and thin titanium-framed violet-tinted shades, all propped up like a corpse in a Western saloon display, still waiting for God. Style is everything, is it not?

That would be me in one of the pews at the back of the theater. I always arrive a bit late as I’ve long ago memorized the opening act. The lighting leaves something to be desired, but I won’t complain lest I anger the producer. It’s a Lebanese Maronite church full of the descendants of Men of Sidon, a Semitic people the Greeks called Phoenicians because of the purple dye they sold at market. I repeat: Style.

I will be dozing next to she who still closes her eyes when she prays and occasionally bumps her knee against mine when I keep mine closed too long, which means I’m dangerously close to letting my head fall back with my mouth open. That would put an end to my attendance.

There are three Masses a year I never miss out of respect for she who enables me to buy pink flamingo ties at Brooks Brothers. Easter for the reasons noted above, Mother’s Day for the same reason, and Christmas, because, well, it’s Christmas.

I stopped going to church as a weekly thing years ago. It happened like this: One bright Sunday I was walking to a local church and as I approached the door, something snapped in me, and I threaded my way through the pilgrims and kept walking. No one tried to stop me or even seemed to miss me, so I kept walking.

And that was how I recaptured my childhood compulsion to walk.

Now, in the twilight of my years, I walk two miles a day except for days full of big wind or freezing rain or after an ice storm. My friends who have meaningful jobs keep nudging me to join a gym, one of those places full of nubile creatures with lots of exposed flesh. I refuse. To me, a treadmill is a spiritual dead zone. There is no real air around it, and what is there are smells of perfumed sweat from the nubility. They provide big television screens, but they’re too far away to see and hear.

I need to be out in the air where I can pick up vibes from the creatures who are sprinkled along my route. It’s the same route I’ve walked for 27 years, and some would think that would be boring. It’s not. Depending on the season or the way it changes, the time of day and the play of light on the street.

I walk through a village of older ladies, widows mostly, who check their mail three times a day and wave at me from their tiny windows. I’ve sort of adopted one whom I call Meme out of respect for her French accent. One day I startled her when her back was turned as she plucked a tuft of weeds.

“Oh! It’s just you,” she gasped. “You’re early. I wasn’t expecting you.”

Imagine. She expected me. I had become part of her day. She only knows me from these pages and my passing her door each day. I knew then that love from proper strangers is a perfumed joy that only an aging spirit can smell.

I won’t walk this morning. It’s a nice day, but it’s Easter, one of the three days. This morning I get to dress up like a Manhattan dandy and listen to the Mass recited in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. I don’t understand a word of it of course, but when the entire Lebanese congregation sings in those words, I sing along with gusto. Sometimes I imagine Jesus himself standing in the corner applauding and commenting, “Nice try.”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

 


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