As she left the church of the non-churchy a few weeks ago, she was a little late in joining the line of people filing out, because she had to gather up the strands of wool and knitting needles and stuff them into the bag containing the Scarf of Endlessness, so named because she does not know how to cast off, meaning that she will be knitting it for the rest of her life.
The scarf could also be called the Scarf of Continuing Mistakes, given that she cannot remember how many rows she’s knit and how many she’s purled, nor how to tell the difference between the two, and also she keeps dropping and adding stitches at random, but that’s a topic for another day.
Anyway, because of the scarf mess, she could not follow her usual routine, which is to leap up and exit the church of the non-churchy rapidly, before, God forbid, she might have to talk to anyone.
She loves this church because it is so beautiful, in its word and song and sermon – yes, even the sermons, even, especially, the sermons, which she still finds kind of shocking – and most of all because of its acceptance, even of people like her, who sit in the pew knitting away on a mistake-ridden scarf and then leap to their feet and exit rapidly without partaking of the social hour.
As she stood in the line of people filing out of the church, holding her program in one hand, ready to deposit it into the reuse-it-for-the-next-service basket, she noticed the necklace the young woman in front of her was wearing. Or rather, she noticed the chain of the necklace, since all she could see was the back of the woman’s neck.
She stood behind the necklace-wearing woman, clutching her program in one hand, mess of a scarf in the other, anxious to be out in the sun, idly observing the fragile gold links of the necklace and the way they curved around their wearer’s slender curved neck.
Then time did one of its weird, loopy, out-of-time pauses, and everything slowed down.
The church, with its enormously high ceilings, hushed. The murmurs of the congregants hushed too. The dust motes in the air hung suspended in the golden light of the windows. The woman in front of her took one step forward, and she did too, still looking at the necklace.
But now everything was different. She saw the necklace, and the wisps of light brown hair escaping from the clips that held it to the back of the woman’s head. She saw the earrings the woman was wearing, dangling stones on hoops, and the pattern of her sundress.
She looked at the man in front of the woman, and the mother to the left holding the child’s hand.
Someone loves them, she thought. Or she didn’t think it, but that was the feeling that came flooding through her. Each one of these people is loved. Cherished.
But it wasn’t entirely that, even. What was it? She stood there, feeling as if she might cry. This feeling was too huge. She couldn’t hold it inside herself. Everything surrounding her, and every aspect of the people in that room with her, was beautiful. The old man, the young woman, the child, all of them filing out through the double doors.
She could love all of them. She already did, on some level that was far below the surface of her life. That was it. Not that she did love all of them, consciously – she didn’t know them – but that didn’t matter, because this was a feeling that was beyond her. She didn’t matter in this equation.
The beauty of the sensation – that all around her was such tenderness – was unbearable. She was too small and human to hold it beyond that one moment.
Time started up again. The woman with the necklace reached the recyle basket and dropped her program into it, and she followed suit. Out the doors, down the marble steps, and outside.
Now, weeks later, she closes her eyes and tries to remember the sensation, conjure it again. The church, the dust motes dancing, the sudden hush and pause, the certainty of love and its possibilities.