Technically the woman in front of me, but he thumped me on the side of the head and not because I happened to be in the line of fire.
Much advice about moving involves activities for developing a social network. The location of a spiritual home away from home ranks in the top 5 for many families. Given my Catholic upbringing, guilt forced it to the top 2. Much to the dismay and in spite of the clamor of complaints from the Offspring, my parental rights were exercised as I marched the mewling couple off determined to perpetuate the guilt on to another generation.
We made the 10:30 mass our first trip out. Something was familiar. Very familiar. In a bad way. It smelled awful. It reminded me of New Orleans. It started to come back. Mass in New Orleans. Everyone out drinking all night- eating garlic laden food. Mix. Go to church. I often think of Tokyo and New Orleans as sister cities. Tokyo has the most Michelin starred restaurants of any city in the world. New Orleans draws visitors from around the globe all eager to sample the famous fare. The Japanese have a reputation for imbibing exemplified in the variety and number of bars the likes of which many have never seen. Some, never having lived in an environment like Tokyo, experience a temporary insanity. This condition would make a riveting number one reality series, “ExPats Gone Wild.” Few familiar with New Orleans have not drunk a Hurricane or heard the line “Throw me another one mister” – a testament to the alcohol centric atmosphere in the French Quarter. Here was my proof. A church full of ExPats and locals, half hung over, the other half breathing garlic and kimchi. We’d have to switch to a mass without the noxious fumes.
6:00 PM Mass: This was clearly better- I could take a deep breath without tasting bile as a result. Without preamble, in walked a monk. His cassock 8 inches shy of enough fabric, proudly displaying hairy, snow-white legs, and Birkenstocks. He marched up to the front and commenced speaking. No music, no pomp, no circumstance, no alter servers. Does Rome know he doesn’t exactly follow the formula? Alas, the 6:00 PM mass really didn’t fit into my schedule. Sunday night is “Out to Supper” night. How about the 8:00 AM?
The 8:00 certainly interfered with my coffee time. The Offspring and I hailed a cab.
“Ohayo gozaimasu, Do Gooders Chapel, Ohayo gozaimasu.”
I’ve just said, “Good morning, Do Gooders Chapel, Good Morning”
Instead of “Good Morning, Do Gooders Chapel, please.”
The Offspring shook with laugher.
Cab Driver- “Hai”-
He said “Yes” solemnly, never taking his eyes off the road. He’d politely given me credit for trying.
Dogs howling, glass breaking, and an ear-splitting screeching hit our ears as we proceeded up the stairs into the church. The choir was warming up. At a pitch that high, only Eunuchs and small children would be able to carry the tune.
The stable for the baby Jesus had kadomatsu (click on blue kadomatsu for post) symbolizing strength and longevity. I know Jesus was welcoming of other beliefs but I’d never seen such items in a church. I felt my mind being pried open.
Ouiser- “I can’t go to this mass. It’s too early for the choir. My ears itched the entire time.”
We were now down to the 12:00 PM mass. Elation in the air, the Offspring envisioned mass getting crossed off the “to do” list. The oldest monk currently available to conduct mass crept up the alter. Slowly he read the texts preparing for a homily on the Baptism of Jesus. He looked up. Something was forgotten- he stared blankly in to space. I looked at Offspring #1. The Monk slowly descended the stairs, and without explanation disappeared into a hallway. We waited. He reappeared. He remembered that he was to douse us in Holy Water to remind us of our baptism, however instead of doing it with this- an aspergillum. (As opposed to the aspergillus species of mold)
I’ve been a Catholic for a lot of years but I’ve never seen a common kitchen hand broom, dipped in a silver bucket, and then shaken at a congregation in order to bless the masses with Holy Water. Jesus probably loved it. The angels probably did a loop with a 360 and a wing tip grab on the end.
The choir cranked up- on high. The organ somewhere in between. Everyone else was just confused. So as is usual for a Catholic mass, most people just didn’t sing. I sang at middle G – my usual pitch.
Offspring #1- “Please stop your bad singing in my ear- it’s worse than the choir.”
Ouiser- “Singing is a form of prayer- you do it no matter how you sound- you should try it.”
A terrible flashback floated before my eyes. A run in between O#1 and his 5th grade teacher prior to the Spring Concert. O#1 refused to sing. A compromise. He fully participated- by singing with an Australian accent.
One of the choir members approached the lectern to lead us in prayer- and song. Heaven help us. She started to sing. Blood started to run out of my ears. I cast a glance at O#1. And committed one of the worst sins a mother can in front of a child. I laughed.
Mass carried on with lots of sitting up and down as masses do. We stood up but the lone woman in front of us stayed down and tilted in her seat. Maybe she was falling asleep, I wanted to. I reached down and grabbed her by the shoulders, if I was awake, she should be too.- ” She looked at me with staring eyes and no response- her body dead weight. Not exactly sleeping. “Are you ok?” She wasn’t blinking. No one else was around. I like to sit up front in order to force exemplary behavior and rapt attention which accounts for the lack of neighbors. Her nose was running. My friend Ronnie caught an old man falling out of a restaurant chair with the same symptoms- he was having a stroke. Or was he drooling? Her skin looked pale. Differential diagnosis- stroke, heart attack, fainting spell. Offspring was waiting for instructions- he needed to stay put- he knew the locations of all necessary panty liners, band aides and surgical implements in my purse. My pens for instance. In case of intubation, he could hold her head while I bit off the ends of the pen and plunged it in her neck creating an airway through which she could breathe. We’d use the panty liners to soak up the blood. But we still needed someone to call an ambulance while I recalled the episodes of House from which my medical training is based.
None of my Japanese fit this situation. “Is this your book? No, this is my book. It is cold outside, isn’t it. This apple is big, this apple is small. This is expensive, this is far, this is spicy.” I haven’t been taught the basics of emergency medical dialogue.
Loudly, so the old monk celebrating mass could hear since he hadn’t noticed the activity up front, I addressed a Japanese congregation, “Who speaks Japanese? I need some help.”
The sheep stared back blankly. Chewing cud, mouths working side to side, some bleating mildly.
Why did this have to happen in front of me. Couldn’t she have been sitting on the other end of the pew? I like to be a part of the herd- not the wrangler. God was pissed at the multitude of sins I’d committed every time I crossed the threshold of the church and it was retribution time. Oh, and the times I didn’t cross the threshold. I didn’t know whether to hold her up or let her down, so I held her in my arms.
Then a blonde woman came flying around the end of the pew. A woman I know. A woman who moved here from China with her family in August. This woman is everywhere, in the center of all activity, at all times, organizing coffees, Yankee swaps, spa get- aways, and teaching Sunday School in her spare time. I could have given her a sloppy wet kiss on the lips. Her nickname is the Social Chairman. God threw me a bone. An escape plan began to percolate.
“Hey friend” She pulled up happily as if we had just met for lunch. She plopped down and set the woman’s head in her lap. This close bodily contact made me cringe. An army medic arrived.
“I think we need an ambulance- she hasn’t spoken to me for several minutes.” My plan was in play and I was glad for an excuse to extricate myself from this situation involving touching a stranger. Knowing teenagers always have a cell phone on their person, I grabbed the first in sight, and commandeered him into calling. I left offspring #1 to hold the woman’s hand.
“But she can’t talk! She doesn’t know me! She doesn’t even know I’m there!”
Ouiser- “Comfort the sick- you never know.”
My work was done. I had removed myself from all duties involving the woman. I was left to think about pride, selfishness, setting a bad example, greed, being judgemental, etc. God knows I’m all those things, but that’s not the reason I got thumped.
I gave Offspring #1 a lecture on the way home. It was about something I left undone. On an icy road I watched in horror as a car swerved in to my lane, crossed to the other side, flipped upside down and landed in a ditch. The driver didn’t get out. I pulled over, shaking, called 911 and left. No one else around. My duty done. Ever since, I wished I had gotten out of my car, called 911, and held the driver’s hand until the ambulance arrived. This time, I held her in my arms. Offspring #1 had held her hand.