Leaving home, she looked back once more as her mother waved, cat in arms, trying not to cry. She had to go and raise the cat’s paw and wave. It was her undoing, and she drove away with tears streaming down her face.
She’d be back, she knew, but there was something in leaving home that seemed permanent. A change where she was entirely responsible for herself. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. There would be no one to watch her or remind her she had to get up early the next day. No one would cook or clean or sit at the table chatting while she ate a late dinner and relayed the day’s events.
Having difficulty seeing, she pulled into the local arena where she could dry her eyes. Eventually, the tears subsided. She put the car in drive, and turning right, she drove away from the town that held all her childhood memories and secrets.
Her mood changed slowly as she thought of everything she still needed to do to set up her new place. Pulling off the highway, excitement settled in and took over. She pulled into the underground and parked in the space assigned to her.
It took weeks to settle in, and she soon found that the continual late nights took their toll. Eventually, she would need to get back to a regular routine, or she would burn out early.
As soon as the last of her friends came and went, she closed the doors and leaned against the door frame. Scanning the apartment, she knew it would be a while before heading off to bed. Looking at the clock, she saw it was well past midnight, but she needed to clean up to ensure she woke to a clean house in the morning. “Nobody else will do it,” she muttered to herself.
It was funny how she thought of it as her house. The tiny one-bedroom apartment was much smaller than any house she knew, but to her, it was home. A home that she alone was responsible for.
“Well, it won’t clean itself,” she said to no one at all and began picking up overflowing ashtrays and empty bottles that once held beer or wine.
It was a bad habit, talking to yourself, but one she had picked up after moving in. Turning the stereo on low, she scanned her records and put on some smooth jazz. She had a plethora of CDs, tapes, and multiple radios, but there was something about the sound of vinyl that brought comfort.
It was two o’clock before she fell into bed, but at least the place was clean, and the dishes were all done and put away. It was a good day, and she thanked God for her friends, her health and all the other little blessings that found their way to her doorstep that day.
Tomorrow was Sunday. She would sleep in and do some laps in the pool in the morning. It was her favourite day and the only one she allowed herself to be lazy. Falling to sleep, she had a smile on her lips as she planned out her day.
The weeks came and went, and she settled into a routine. Life became monotonous for her. Get up, go to work, get groceries, eat, sleep and have friends over on weekends. Once a month, she would go dancing with the girls. She made a habit of swimming daily to ensure she got some exercise. Since she loved the water, it didn’t feel like she was exercising.
Something was missing in her life, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Her girlfriends told her it was a man.
“Let’s go to the pub and find you a guy. Come on. It will be fun.”
That had become her best friend’s favourite line.
“Do you like me any less because I’m single?” she asked.
“No,” came the swift reply.
Her friends knew one thing for sure about her. She didn’t believe she needed someone else to complete her. Not that she didn’t date and want to meet someone, but she believed that it needed to be a mutual relationship, where duties were shared and growth and goals supported. Many of the guys she had dated seemed to think she could be pigeonholed into a ‘wifely’ role. She was the wrong girl for that. Perhaps she was too independent for her own good, but she wasn’t prepared to wait hand and foot on someone else. For the most part, she was happy.
Still, something was missing. As she lay in bed one Saturday night planning her day of relaxation, she realized what was missing. Since moving, she had not bothered to find or go to church. Funny, she didn’t think she would miss it, but here she was, realizing that she did.
The next morning she got up and grabbed her phone to search for local churches. Finding one not too far away, she grabbed her purse and decided to walk there. Much to her surprise, the mass times were different than that of her childhood church, so she arrived at the end of mass instead of the beginning. Sitting in the back row, she figured she’d wait for the next one.
The songs were beautiful, and the choir lifted one’s spirits. She watched as the people rushed to greet each other at the end of mass. Others poured out of the church in a rush to get out before the inevitable exit lineup began.
Moving closer to the front, she knelt in silent prayer and then sat, waiting. It didn’t take long before she was the only one in the church save the priest standing in the doorway. She watched as the altar was cleared and realized another mass would not be happening.
She closed her eyes in prayers, saying sorry silently to God for not attending Mass regularly. Hearing the choir and seeing the faces of all the strangers made her realize that not only was it the mass she missed but the music, the Eucharist and the sense of familiarity and community.
There is a kind of closeness to God she felt when she was in church. She had always felt close to God, but in a church, there was a ‘coming home’ feeling for her.
Smiling at the priest who was patiently waiting for her to leave, she rose. Walking over to the wall of candles, she found one unlit and scrambled in her purse for some change. Another ritual, lighting a candle for her father. It started while he was alive and didn’t end with his passing.
Inhaling one last time, she smiled. She loved the smell of an old church. It was the scent of well-worn wooden pews, incense, candles and a thousand different perfumes and colognes from over the years that hung in the air.
She grabbed a bulletin from the back on her way out so she would know the mass times for the coming weeks. A sense of peace settled over her. It was definitely like coming home. In a way, it didn’t matter where the church was. It was and always would be a sense of home.
In time, she would come to know the people in her new community. There would be other communities and other churches, but she discovered something that day about herself. There is a return to one’s authentic self that goes hand in hand with a return to church.
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.