I had bad thoughts on Good Friday.
Someone should have told the woman in the pew in front of me that mom-jeans make big butts look bigger. All this Lenten sacrifice makes me hungry. I saw what the people on the altar look like; I don’t need to watch them chant. I’ll close my eyes just for a little bit. Is it a sin that The B-52s’ “The Devil’s In My Car” is playing in my head? Isn’t mass only supposed to last one hour?
My husband B had probably said that to get me to attend the Good Friday service. I was sure at least one hour had passed, and there were still three pages of readings and hymns left in the program. I resisted digging my phone out of my purse to check the time. God could read my mind anyway, so me and the Big Guy knew there was a toasty suite awaiting in my afterlife. B and the group of nuns sitting behind us didn’t need to know that, too.
The nuns were older, all five of them dressed in gear I remembered from my Catholic elementary school days: black veils with white bands; synthetic, A-shaped jumpers with patch pockets; thick, Far-Side lady glasses. Those women had non-practicer radar, and I knew my actions were triggers: the delayed standing, sitting, and kneeling; mouthing the hymns; snapping my head up when my chin made contact with my chest.
They stood behind me in line when it came time for the veneration of the cross. The scene before us was not exactly devotional. Four separate lines of approximately two hundred New Yorkers with growling stomachs shuffled forward to touch or kiss a huge cross. Alternate turns never happen at four-way intersections or Duane Reade, and they don’t happen at church either. People stepped up to the cross if others hesitated, and the hesitations caused more confusion about who was next. I reached the head of my line at the same time as a bald short man. We glanced at each other and proceeded like a Catholic version of the Soul Train line: we took a step up, a step back, another step up right into each other, then did a stiff shimmy up and down, unsure who would venerate the foot of the cross and who would claim the head. My cluelessness was exposed right in front of the parishioners, God and the five nuns. I thought really bad things about that bald guy as I returned to kneel at my pew.
I kept my head down and watched the nuns’ blocky black shoes step past. I imagined them whacking me from behind with rulers and paddles, and wondered if they would beat up on B too when he defended me, even though he was an obvious practicing believer. They whispered, which surprised me. Even I knew talking was not allowed in church. What they said surprised me even more.
“Well, that was an ordeal.”
“This service gets longer every year.”
“I mean it. This is the last time I’m coming to this one. You girls are on your own next year.”
I wanted to spin around, high five each of them and exclaim, “Amen sisters!” But that was definitely a no-no. It might have embarrassed them, or made them feel exposed. It’s too bad I didn’t have an appropriate way at that moment to let them know how I felt. Their impatience and crankiness made them beautiful and human, and not a bit less reverent or devoted, in my eyes.