The ladies escorted us into the chapel and sandwiched us into a pew of adults, all the better to watch over two little girls by themselves at church. Inside, light flooded from tall, clear windows, bouncing off bright white walls.
Michelle understood how to find the words in the song book. She belted them out. All the adults looked at her like she was one of God’s own angels. Even with her finger pointing at the page, I didn’t know how to sing the words or what they meant. I thought if we went to Sunday school, I might learn. “Sunday school’s for babies,” Michelle said.
At least I understood what seemed like the most popular word: father, father, father. Michelle and I never mentioned the word and here it was on everyone’s lips. My own father had moved to California so I each time it was spoken aloud, it stung like salt in a wound.
Through the window, I could see Michelle’s bike leaning against a tree and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It wasn’t until after the service, when we filed back out into the lobby, that the experience took a turn for the sweeter. The ladies had set out plates of cookies on a long table; I had never seen such a rainbow assortment, including my favorites: the animal crackers dipped in pink or white frosting and coated in sprinkles. Now, here, was a language I understood. I made a little promise to myself to return here when I was older and could understand more.
If my first church experience made God seem like a vast unknown entity lurking at a great distance, I have another memory that suggests such a mystery could be equally vast, but far more personal. This was something that happened on the playground of my school after class ended for the day and most of the kids had gone home. A friend and I were playing on a set of parallel bars. I did one of those maneuvers where you pull yourself up so the bar is resting bellow your belly and then you tilt forward and spin fast. When my feet smacked the dirt and I was dangling right side up again, the world seemed like a new and different place. The school building seemed far away and not altogether real. I was me, but I was also not me. I was an altered me. I could see everything from a great distance but I was not afraid as I believe I would have been if it had been the usual me. I was both smaller and bigger than I understood and these were the facts. This strange perspective passed quickly; everything settled back into its proper proportion. I never forgot that sensation. I’ve reflected on it hundreds of times and have come to think of it as a fleeting whisper of God.
A short audio version of another adventure with Michelle (this one to the local fire station) lives here: http://nwpr.org/post/break-case-emergency-corinna-nicolaou.