Church karaoke.

My initial 36 hours on Martha’s Vineyard have been full of surprises: My desperate reaction to the news that Vineyard Haven is a dry town. Rich white people on exclusive New England islands wear ugly sherbert-colored clothing. I attended Sunday mass.

I was too sweaty and foul for the eight o’clock mass at St. Augustine when I ran past the church around 8:15 Sunday morning. I knew I had time to attend the 5:00 p.m. mass before the writing seminar’s welcome reception. I arrived at the church, showered and dressed nicely, five minutes before the beginning of mass.

The church was not elaborate, but pretty with crisp stained glass windows and a ceiling beamed and curved like the inside of a ship. I sat in the pew alone and was reminded of how far I was from John and my family. The mass musicians – three vocalists, two with guitars, one acoustic, the other electric – warmed up and the beauty of their voices distracted me from the oncoming black cloud mood.

It seemed the entire congregation sang along with the musicians. No one held a missalette and I was impressed that they all knew the lyrics. I wished I could sing along, even though I can never determine the correct note to sing and sound like a preadolescent boy whose voice is changing. It surprised me when I saw the hymn lyrics projected onto the wall behind the altar and realized the attendees were able to sing along because it was like church karaoke.

What surprised me most of all was that when I read the lyrics to sing along, they choked me up. I tried to sing or at least say the words “Open the eyes of my heart lord” but my throat tightened and tears formed in the corners of my eyes. I’m normally reluctant to attend mass and never sing hymns but the situation was outside of my normal: I was removed geographically from John and the people important to me. But I knew I wasn’t removed from their love. And because I have all this love in my life, I have the courage to do these crazy things like go to remote places to live among strangers and write stories. The people who love me don’t think any of this is crazy. My eyes were so opened at that moment that all I could do was cry.

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