The first church I remember attending was the church across the street from my house. I assumed that everyone attended a church closest to their house and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that church attendance was more of a preference thing and less of a geographical thing.
It was and is a Mennonite church (Brethren variety) with wood pews and a nice, big organ and two choirs: one in German and one in English. Sunday school was in the basement, off the big reception room and it’s cool cement floors where we gathered after funerals and Christmas Pageants. The highlight of Sunday School was the Flannelgraph (here is your relatable sewing content, friends), which was/is a board covered in flannel used to tell stories using felt backed, dye cut illustrations. The most memorable of all the Flannelgraph stories– besides Noah and his many, many animals– was the “Healing of the Paralytic at Capernaum” which to six year olds was just “The Healing of the Lame Man” and (if you don’t know how the story goes) involves a group of friends cutting a hole into the ceiling of a packed house where Jesus is preaching, and lowering their friend who cannot walk down to lay in front of him. We all watched the beige board as the hinged fabric came up and the tiny fabric dude descended on thread and carpet in front of small fabric Jesus and his flowy robes and even flowier brown hair.
The miracle of the story was the bit about the man being healed and rolling up his carpet and leaving the house, but the part of the story that I internalized was the bit where his friends cut a hole in the ceiling. I mean. Get you a crew that would cut a whole damn hole in someone’s roof for you.
That is a crew I would run with.
On the Wednesday before I turned 42 I attended team mashallah, a poetry reading hosted off site as a part of the AWP conference happening in Portland. I stood in the middle of the room because all the seats and all of the floor that was available to sit on were full. The room was tight when we got there, but we pushed in anyway and then at least another 50 people came in behind us. People stood outside and listened through the floor length windows. The poets were as follows: Angel Nafis, Fatimah Asghar, Safia Elhillo, Hanif Abdurraqib and Kaveh Akbar.
They read to us and each other and I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a room as full of as much love and laughter as these people had for each other. They are the friends we all wish for people that we love the most. I came home believing that I would never need to write another word again because there are people in the world as kind and bright as this. I also came home believing that it no longer matters if I write again… which might be the perfect head space to start writing again.
My daughter is crying because she has three brothers and then more brothers somewhere else and no sisters that live with us. She is crying because no one in the house wants to play with her and her friends are busy. She is crying because of many things but this is what she’s decided to name it.
My oldest cannot fall asleep at night and says, “I am an island at school and I don’t know how to fix it”. We tell him that this is just a blip. I have started hugging him more.
When I come home from work I check the basketball court and see how many of my children are there. If I don’t see them, I walk in the door and see how many many children they might have brought home with them. We all sit outside on the front steps eating french fries and people honk and wave and seem happy to see people that they know outside in the sun eating fries.
When I was 9 we left the church and its wooden pews for a church with stacking chairs and carpet in the next town over. People would come and go through its doors and through our town and our house and my crew would change and sometimes I would be an island, too.
On that Wednesday night people climbed out into the air through the windows because it was too difficult to get through all the people and out the door. I thought of Capernaum and the floating bits of felt suspended on thread. I thought of those friends who cut through the roof and hoped they laughed and argued as they lowered their boy through the air.
In the days following that night I would see and talk to friends, some of whom I have loved since I was in High School. We hugged and we held each other’s faces and we tried not to cry and then cried anyway. I texted people not with us to make plans to see each other again because I do not want to wait until one of us is dead to say that we wished we had.
I hope that you read or listen to poetry this week and this month. I hope you will include the poets above. I love the podcast VS by the Poetry Foundation. I love it. I love Danez Smith and Franny Choi. Sometimes the kids listen with me. Sometimes this is great and sometimes it is uncomfortable. Either way: POETRY!
Books I have read recently or am reading right now and if we talk about them, I will sort of fall all over myself describing how much they are moving me:
Halal if You Hear Me a BreakBeat anthology put together by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo
Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib
Don’t Call us Dead by Danez Smith
My Private Property by Mary Ruefle
Be/Hold a Friendship Book by Shira Erlichman (go ahead and get this for all your graduating babies and best friends and make it be the book that shows up at all the birthday parties and people think, “Oh good, they brought that great book”.)
Oh and just go ahead and watch Angel Nafis perform Angel’s Heart Clowns the Ocean