short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
I’m a churchgoer, not sure if I’m a true believer. Mom’s a true believer, while Dad’s a practical man, which is not to say Dad isn’t a man of faith. No one could have a daughter like me and not be a man of faith. Mom believes human beings descended from God or some heavenly realm. Dad believes we came from the earth, springing literally from the dirt when bones of the Gods were cast carelessly over a shoulder.
They’re both metaphors. Mom and Dad are humanistic. That’s all I really need to know, the rest being details.
Dad’s instilled in me a deep respect for sacred space. In pop psychology, we learn all people have personal space, sometimes called a comfort zone, like an invisible bubble with rules for how to violate the space. I don’t like strangers stepping into my personal space, like leaning close to smell my hair in the book store.
I’m particular about whom I allow close.
Sacred space goes beyond people’s auras and this’s where Mom and Dad might disagree on the details. According to Dad, there’s unspoken and obvious rules, regardless of the space we’re in. I’d never walk across someone’s front yard. I’d not play softball in aisle three of Walmart. I wouldn’t have a loud conversation at a movie.
Those examples might seem like respect for human beings and not sacred space. I’d never stomp on flowers in the middle of the woods just for the fun of it. At the zoo, enclosed by a two-foot fence, a life-size granite lioness with her clubs occupied a grassy knoll, three children squirreling over the statue, parents watching on. I didn’t feel the fence required, but the fence did make sacred space obvious.
When I was eight, we were in Church. Dad pulled at his tie, like he couldn’t breathe. “Sacred space,” he grumbled, smiling down to me.
We almost didn’t go, the weather bad with the driving rain, thunder and lightning. Dad tried a bribe of blueberry pancakes. Mom trumped him with something about rain falling equally on the sinners and the righteous.
Soon after Communion, which I wasn’t allowed, four years shy of my Confirmation, as the minister offered up prayers for people and things, the door opened with a thud, a man filled the entrance, looking much like Odysseus on his return to Ithaca. Heads turned and breaths were held. Some mutters offered rhetorical questions. By his appearance and wild eyes, we did expect him to announce some accident he’d been in.
He worked his way forward, our minister pausing, watching. A disembodied voice behind me suggested the man be escorted out. Dad stood, worked in front of me, came beside the man and walked with him. Mom followed. The homeless man dropped at the front kneeler, Dad on one side, Mom, in her flowing white dress, on the other. Mom dug in her purse. I couldn’t see, but I knew she had granola bars.
Shoulder to shoulder, they watched the minister finish the service, Dad pulling at his tie, the stranger gobbling granola and Mom in her angelic dignity.
I learned much about sacred space that day.