As I was teetering across a sheet of unshoveled ice on Central Park West one morning last week, a young foreign tourist jumped up from her bench to ask me if I knew where the nearest church was. I know my way all around the Upper West Side, but there’s never been a time when I’ve paid attention to its places of worship. “What kind of a church?” I asked, to buy time. “Any kind,” she said, distressfully staring me down as though she might kill herself if she didn’t get situated in a pew within the next hour or so. Behind us, her man stayed put on the bench, unconcerned as hell.
After I skated away, I tried putting myself in her shoes, imagining how a church visit might ever possibly be able to help me through a particularly bad or sad time. I eventually figured out where she was coming from, without having to dig too deep. Whenever I was taken to a church service as a chronically skeptical child, the candles, the lighting, the stained-glass windows, and the sounds of the organ kept me calm. Freshman year of college, I almost auditioned for my university’s Chapel Choir (which seemed to have much lower selection standards than the other campus singing troupes) to prolong my tenure as a low-level amateur vocalist. Over the years, I’ve sat in churches for weddings, baccalaureates, and speeches, and I’ve hidden out in a couple of them when I’ve been umbrellalessly caught in the rain. Earlier today, I ended up in a church for a Martin Luther King, Jr. remembrance service (the same church where King once delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” address). On none of these occasions was I ever in a big hurry to leave. So being on the inside of a church must be that much more soothing for the people who actually believe in most of what those buildings stand for.
The Central Park West tourist looks at churches the way I look at my books, my music, and a couple of other outlets. It’s the same void, filled via a different venue. We’re both lucky to dependably have somewhere to turn when our hours get dangerously dark.
Such Masterpieces…My Masterpieces…
5 days ago