To my mother over spring break: “I’m trying to think of a symbol that makes me think of you that I could get tattooed to me somewhere.”
My poor mother sighed and said, “But you’ve already done so much!”
“I know, I know, I was just kidding, Mom.”
And she was right. Since I graduated high school, I got an ear pierced (which earned me a “I didn’t think you were that kind of person” from a schoolmate’s mother), started to smoke a pipe once a month or so with friends, got my septum pierced, among other things that might be familiar to you if you’ve followed this blog at all.
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I was born on an Easter. Instead of preaching a resurrection sermon as she would have been doing had I not been itching to reach daylight, my pregnant mother rolled away the stone and Behold! The womb is empty! He is no longer here. Go and share the good news. A little baby boy was born. Well, I’m sure my mom wouldn’t use “little baby boy” to describe the bouncing bundle of joy that emerged that day. The way she describes it, I was more barge than baby.
Easter hops around on the calendar from year to year depending on the lunar cycle, as I understand it, meaning it rarely coincides exactly with my birthday. But I remember one of my earlier birthdays when the two special days nearly aligned—I think it was my fifth birthday, which would have been one day before Easter that year. When I say “remember,” I’m not sure if I’m remembering the actual birthday party or the picture of the birthday party that is floating around as a jpeg somewhere in our family’s laptops, and thus, my head. In this picture I am eyeing a bunny rabbit, which is sitting contentedly on a platter on the dinner table as my godparents watch happily. The bunny rabbit is actually a cake that my mom cleverly created from a couple of complicated cake molds. There may have been two—one brown, one white, both yummy.
Wait, it wasn’t a bunny, it was the bust of a fawn. Was it? Old people complain about memory loss, but it happens with all of us. The older you get, the more aware you become of how bad your memory already is, that’s all.
Bunny or deer, I do remember the smell of the candle smoke that replaced the tongues of fire flitting over the confetti-covered sticks of wax. I have smelled the smoke of many candles in my day, from birthday cakes, Advent wreaths, dinner tables, sanctuaries, and power outages. But it was this particular scene that I recalled at church a week or so ago. I think people call these “smemories.” I don’t think it is a very pleasant word.
The occasion was Good Friday. I had the idea that I wanted to go to a service, but no plans. It was close to sundown when a brother on my floor asked me if I wanted to go to the corner. The corner is the sidewalk at an intersection close to my dorm where people go to smoke and talk. I had an old cigar sitting around, so I said sure. It is good to discuss and share life.
A girl from my dorm walked by on the other side of the street and asked if I was going to my church’s evening Good Friday service. I said, yes! and called another friend to invite her, too. The three of us walked to church together. I put out my cigar on the way, already worried that the smell would be noticeable to others. But I also figured that if there’s any time to “come as you are,” Good Friday would be then.
The service opened with minutes for listening to nails being driven into wood. Then a man carried a cross around the sanctuary, leaving it in the middle of the congregation, standing up. The pastor preached on God’s holiness. Holy, holy, holy. That holiness includes love, justice, mercy, but also wrath. Wrath.
Before the service closed, one of the other pastors explained that he was about to extinguish the candles on the altar, representing the passion of Jesus. Then he walked into the narthex and extinguished the final candle: the death of Jesus.
Sitting in the second row, it didn’t take long for the candle smoke to reach us. My eyes were closed, and when I opened them I was a little boy in a checkered black and red vest and a party hat standing on a dining room chair, watching the smoke rise from the Easter bunny. Yeah, it was a bunny.