Although it was a warm spring day outside, there was something about the inside of Shara’s church that reminded me of autumn. It had the feel of a season where things that were once alive and flourishing were now cold and dying.
As Shara and I were walking to church, I was wondering if the service was going to be more like Miss Mabel’s church, the new babysitter Mom had found for me. Miss Mabel, whose chestnut brown skin and long shiny black hair made her resemble a thinner version of Mahalia Jackson, was what we called ‘sanctified’ back then. She attended the holiness fire-baptized church down on the avenue. I remember the day I went to her house with Mom to talk to her about babysitting me.
“Well, you have to bring her dresses…’cause we go to chuuurch,” she said as they sat there discussing times and prices. It was something about the way she said church that made me think we would be there for a very long time.
It wasn’t long before I was attending the nightly revival services along with Miss Mabel and her eight kids. We’d take up a whole row of the tiny storefront church. The hot bright lights and mahogany wood paneling on the walls and floors made the church look like the basement of someone’s home. There were no frills in the sanctuary or the parishioners, as if any decor or adorning had to be left on the other side of the threshold.
Still, the tiny holiness church spared no expense on the instruments. The state-of-the-art organ, drumset and microphones were quite similar to those I had seen in the Rockabye Bar, down the street.
We would watch the ushers “nurse,” as we called it, fanning heavy laden souls and snatching babies or eye glasses from the folks so they could feverishly dance around uninhibited. Our prattle couldn’t be heard over the loud shaking of the tambourines, or the saints picking them up and putting them down on the hard wood floors. The holy dancing sounded like the marching of a well disciplined army. They were soldiers indeed.
Eventually, without being told, I’d learn to sit still in the house of the Lord, realizing it was the place where God lived. There I’d sit in taupe colored folded chairs, watching bodies fall around me, slain by the power of God. During one service, a man fell in the aisle to my right. His glassy eyes were fixated on the ceiling as his mouth foamed, eventually muffling his hallelujahs and cries to Jesus.
“Those people have the whitest teeth. I guess it’s all that foamin’ at the mouth,” I remember Mom saying one day. I’m not even sure why she was telling me that. She had a way of telling me things that went way over my head,kind of like her comments were meant for grownups but since there weren’t any around, I’d just have to do.
I sat there, calmly peering down at the man stretched out on the floor, remembering Mom’s description but beginning to comprehend on my own what was taking place. I understood that this was one of many ways that people served and sacrificed to God. Over time, I also noticed the strength and power He gave them in exchange.
As soon as we entered the sanctuary of the church I was attending with Shara, I realized there would be a vast difference between Miss Mabel’s church and Shara’s church. Still, I knew God had more than one household and I need to be still while visiting Him.
As soon as Shara wearily sat down on the pew that Easter sunday morning, her shoulders drooped forward and she sobbed.
She cried so hard I thought she was going to break in two. Her whole body shook, especially her stomach. The tears were coming from a deep cavity in her soul that most people didn’t think she had.
She was equipped with an endless amount of tissue. As soon as she soaked through one she would simultaneously pull out another. I had never seen anybody cry that hard for two solid hours let alone be silent while doing it. She didn’t even look like herself. With her black mascara collecting at the bottom of her lashes, her sharp ebony eyes resembled muddy puddles in a rain storm.
I didn’t even know she knew how to cry.
At one point she just covered her mouth, as if she wanted to throw up.
I felt so bad for her. Shara’s church wasn’t the kind of church you cried in. It was the type where folks left their tears at home, only showing up there to prove how successful they were. Still it was the only place Shara knew.
Nobody looked at her. She was the only one crying. No usher came over to her with tissue or a hug. No minister or deacon approached her to pray. Instead Shara worked it out the best way she knew how.
Although she was not physically leaning on me, I was starting to feel heavy and helpless. It felt like the weight of her burden and the flood of her tears would eventually swallow me up.
Why didn’t I ask if we could go to Miss Mabel’s church? I thought. I wasn’t certain if that was the right place for her or not. Her passion didn’t match theirs, but any place would have been better than where we were.
One thing I was certain of, Shara handpicked me to be there with her that Sunday morning; I felt it. I’m not sure why she chose me to go with her that day. Could I have been the only one who wouldn’t judge her or think that her tears weren’t real? Maybe she saw me as someone who would use all the grey matter they could muster to try to comprehend her pain. Who knows for sure, all I know is Shara could be full of drama, but this was no performance.
This was the real her.
I don’t remember anything said in the sermon. The message and the announcements had the same tone. There was no soul stirring music. It felt more like we were there to mourn the dearly departed rather than celebrate Someone who triumphantly rose.
The only offering I remembered that day was Shara’s tears.
If any of her family members were there for the Easter service, she didn’t greet them, and they didn’t come over to her.
“Well, let’s go,” she said with a faint smile as soon as the service ended. I noticed it wasn’t hard for her to rise to her feet. She was light as a feather.
“You wanna go get some ice cream?” she said as we headed towards the door. Lincoln Dairy a local ice cream parlor was across the street. Everybody went there on Sundays. We crossed Main Street to go to the dairy never discussing the church or the service.
Once we placed our order, we sat there eating our ice cream chattering about nothing in particular. I kept trying to search her face, hoping to get a clue of what was going on inside of her. Her dark eyes were back on duty, darting around the ice cream parlor.
The only thing I remember about the walk home, was how brightly the sun was shining on us.