Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Holiday Memories

Every now and then, I start to feel nostalgic—which I suppose is obvious given my reminiscing here.

Today, I started feeling nostalgic about the St. Genevieve Christmas Bazaar. Every year in Maher Hall, there was a collection of items ranging from baked goods, to plants, to craft items that could be purchased by the students. It was a fund-raiser for the school, but it was also a fun opportunity to let the kids to their Christmas shopping. It was especially fun for the really young kids, who were sent with an envelope of money and a “list” of items to be purchased. All the parents who were volunteering at this big event would walk around with the little ones, helping them pick out gifts for their families.

I remember walking around, feeling overwhelmed by how much stuff was there. I wanted it all! The little Christmas magnets? Loved ’em. Yarn doilies? Everyone needs more doilies. Pictures, live plants, fake plants, key chains…it was a paradise of sorts.

But the best part was the raffle. There were certain items—a little bigger and a little nicer than the regular stuff that was for sale—that you could buy raffle tickets for and keep your fingers crossed, hoping that you would win it.

One year (and I’m struggling to remember if it was third or fourth grade), there was a neat little camera up for raffle and my boyfriend Jason really, really wanted it. I think he spent all his money buying tickets, sure that if he put in enough, he was guaranteed to win it. He was crushed when he didn’t.

And then there was me. I had a little money left over after purchasing a vast array of craft items and plastic flowers, so I threw in a raffle ticket for a Cookie Monster cookie jar. It was hand-made and came from someone who had created it in a ceramics class. I won that cookie jar. And I still have it. In fact, I’m looking at it right now.

For the most part, it has sat, completely empty, devoid of cookies or any other treats. So why do I keep it? Why do I let it sit empty, year after year?

Because it’s not empty. It’s full of memories…twenty years of memories…memories of an easier time, simplicity and innocence. It’s full of the memories of one little girl who is now a woman on the outside, but on the inside, still carries hopes and dreams for the future.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hide and Seek

Catholic schools are special places. And if you’re lucky, you also get to find the special places in the adjacent church and rectory. I was one of the lucky ones.

If I remember correctly, it happened while I was in third grade. I had already learned some of the shortcuts in the school, how to take extra-long bathroom breaks without getting caught and so on. But this year, there was something new to explore, and it was one of the greatest adventures I had while at St. Genevieve.

It was Thanksgiving time and we’d had a huge food drive to help the needy. I was one of the lucky volunteers who got to help load the food into the big truck. There was food in the school, as well as in the rectory. All of the student volunteers were assigned to “teams” and I got to be on the team that was going to get the food from the rectory. We finished really quickly and we didn’t want to go back to class yet, so the priests let us play hide-and-seek in the rectory. Now, there’s all this insanity about abuse in the Catholic Church, but these priests weren’t like that. They were just nice, which these days, seems to be a completely foreign concept.

Anyway, I swear that rectory grew to astronomical proportions once we were inside. From the outside, it was just a brick building, but on the inside—whoa. It was a myriad of rooms and hallways, a seemingly endless maze of red carpet and dark-paneled walls. There were so many places to hide—too many places to hide. I actually got lost at one point! I remember walking into the dining room (which contained the longest table I’d ever seen in my life) and thinking that it must have been made for giants.

I wandered aimlessly for I don’t even know how long, completely forgetting that I was supposed to be finding my classmates. At some point, I must have taken a wrong turn, because I suddenly found myself stepping into the church. I was in there, completely alone in the cavernous space. It was a cloudy day, so there wasn’t much light coming in through the stained-glass windows and all the lights in the church were off. Other than the subtle glow of candlelight, there was nothing. The silence was deafening. Never before and not since, have I ever heard such a loud quiet.

And there was something else.

I remember that I didn’t feel afraid. I could just tell that I wasn’t alone anymore. I remember sitting near the altar, admiring it and its surroundings. I’d never seen it that close up before. The tabernacle sat in a lone spot behind the altar, gleaming gold in the candlelight, shadows playing on the delicate scrollwork that covered the front. There was a special feeling growing and spreading in my chest—it was warm, comforting and strangely familiar. As I got up, I was aware that there was a slight movement, a small quick shadow. How could something be moving, when I was the only one there? There was no breeze, no stirring of the air.

When I looked up, I knew that the feeling I had of not being alone was accurate. There was someone there with me. A single candle was blazing next to the altar. It was a small candle compared to the many others in the church, but it was contained in a red, glass cup and was hanging there, the flame flickering, as though someone was gently blowing on it, not quite hard enough to extinguish it, but hard enough that the orange-yellow flame kept going sideways.

I stood there, mesmerized, curious, wanting to look closer, but knowing I didn’t have to. Father Len had shared the story of the candle in the red cup—as long as the flame is burning and you can see that glow of red, it means that God is in that place. And I was sure—I knew down to the very core of my soul—God was in that church with me. Considering that I was doing something I shouldn’t have been, sneaking away and prowling around the church, I was still strangely unafraid. A small smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I whirled my head around, looking behind me, eyes darting up and down, scanning the ceiling, straining to see up into the choir loft. I wanted to see God in that moment. He was there. And then I realized I was looking in the wrong places. He wasn’t a person. He was that little flutter of a breeze that made the candle flicker. I had already seen Him.

I turned then, skipping out the side door—not to go back into the rectory, but to head outside. The truck was still in the alley, the last bit of food being loaded by students. My friends were there and they looked at me quizzically. “Where have you been? We were waiting for you.” I shrugged, not wanting to share. I remember locking eyes with Father Len and smiling. And I remember him smiling back at me, a knowing smile, a smile that went far beyond his mouth and extended up into his twinkling eyes. From behind his glasses, he raised his eyebrows just a little, and I remember the corners of his eyes crinkling as the smile on his face grew wider. It was a smile that said he absolutely knew where I had been and he knew that I had just experienced something special. We never spoke of it and word never got back to the teachers that we’d been allowed to goof off in the rectory for a little while.

But I knew then, and I know now, there are special places no matter where we go. And God is everywhere. He may not be hiding, but in the briefest of moments, we get to "seek" Him just the same. I know that I just have to pay attention to see Him.