Saints & Kitty Cats
Today was a day of healing in so many ways. I was asked to sing this morning because it was All Saints Sunday. We didn't have this day in the Baptist Church that I grew up in. Or if we did, I missed it somehow. (When you're a Baptist, everyone who's "saved" is a saint, as opposed to the Catholic Church where saint is some kind of official designation -- hmm, I wonder if Catholics have All Saints Day and if they only try to remember actual designated saints. It's all so confusing, no disrespect intended.)
The MCC in the Valley is a congregation I visit frequently. I like the minister, Rev. Bob Shore-Goss, because he's a total radical theologian with a twinkle in his eye. He's also one of the smartest and most educated men I've ever met. (I enjoy visiting MCC-LA for the same reason. Rev. Neil Thomas, with his smart, British style, is also a brilliant man, his sermons extemporaneous and emotional, different from Rev. Bob's witty, more professorial style.)
MCC in the Valley is a very warm congregation, partly because it's so intimate. It's also amazingly diverse. People of both genders in roughly equal numbers (as opposed to some GLBT churches which are predominately male). People of all races and ages -- and for all his scholarly knowledge, Pastor Bob is a hands-on pastor. You can tell he really cares about the people, yes, but also about the larger community.
It kind of reminds me of the church I grew up in. No one was rich. Sometimes we barely scraped by, month after month. But both my mom and dad got intimately involved in the lives of the church people. They knew they had a home and that if they needed anything, my dad would drive to the end of the earth to make sure they had it.
I don't really know the people at MCC in the Valley, but they are constantly raising money for the community food bank, or having people bring canned goods. They always serve food after each service and anyone can eat.
They are humble people. This is not a trap to get you in in order to sign you up to something or force their faith on you. It's almost as if they've made it a gathering place for anyone who just wants to hang out with sincere, loving people -- oh, and they happen to be Christians, but if you're not, no big deal. You're welcome to just be. No pressure. No sales job. No recruiting. Just comfort and welcome.
That's why I love them so much. How can you not?
I haven't sung there yet, but I let them know I'd be more than honored to do so (they don't know yet that I'm a big ham and will sing anywhere, anytime for anyone). But finally, they asked me to sing for this "All Saints Sunday."
Lissa, the music director, said they were going to play a slideshow of people who've passed, both friends and family, and they wanted me to sing during the slideshow.
Naturally, I planned to sang "Save Me A Seat," since it's a song about a memorial service. But then Lissa told me that so many people had submitted photos -- always at the last minute -- that the section would now be 15 minutes long.
"No problem," I told her.
"The last slide just says 'peace.'"
So, now I'm thinking, "Okay, what songs should I use for a memorial slide show that will fill 15 minutes?"
And it was obvious. First, My Thanksgiving Prayer. Because, well, it's one of my very best songs and it's thanksgiving time and we're giving thanks for the chance to have known these people, yes?
Then, a song for the caregivers, "Going It Alone." And then, no choice. "Connected." It has the perfect last line. Now, if only the timing would work.
The service started. Rev. Bob is in Palm Springs for the Pride celebration. But the service was, as always full of laughter and ease. Oh, and on one wall there is this ANCIENT old pipe organ that was recently given to them. I think it even has a bellows. It's wonderful.
Finally, they came to the memorial spot. The slides opened with words printed on the screen. I began "Save Me A Seat." When I got to the "nachos" line, I got a good laugh which made me happy. About that time, the first face came up on the screen and my throat tightened.
It was a young face.
It just kind of hit me why we were there. I quickly looked down at my keyboard so that I could center myself. The worst thing you can do is cry (unless you're Audra McDonald) because you can't sing. Your throat closes up instantly.
And as I'm trying to not cry, I realize I haven't sung this song in forever. What's the next verse? How does the bridge go? Right. "Angel of the night time..." but is that on the first verse or the second.
I felt like I was on a highwire.
I wonder if people know what goes through the mind of a singer? I tried to just get back to the words. Stop thinking about the images. Just sing the words. If you can remember them.
All of this drama happens in a split second. I get my bearings. I'm singing the song. And then I make a mistake.
I look up. The first face I see is a younger man across the room. He has tears streaming down his face. Oh god. My throat again. My eyes burn a little.
But I push it down. I have to push it down. I look at other faces. They're watching the screen. I just concentrate on the song. The piano sounds beautiful. The microphone is making me sound REALLY great. Enjoy yourself, Steve. Just enjoy the moment.
I look at the screen. I see more faces. I'm celebrating them. And now as I get to the last line:
Then on a day
When you feel lost or hurt
Go to the kitchen
And get some dessert
Then sit at the table and eat
Just remember to save me a seat
I realize it's the perfect song for a memorial service.
I segue into "My Thanksgiving Prayer." I think of the Gay Chorus up in San Francisco. And December 1st. And Jennifer Holliday. And Piper Laurie. And I think how amazing it's going to be to hear it in a symphony hall. And I feel so thankful.
Then "Going It Alone." Then "Connected."
Now I'm wondering how the timing is going to go. I get to the last line.
"Will will always be..."
And the final slide comes up on the screen. "Peace."
"...connected to each other."
And fade to black. It couldn't have been more perfect if we had planned out, moment by moment.
It felt very healing. For all of us.
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with kitty cats. Well, my friend Michael asked Jim and me if I wanted to go with him kitten shopping. KITTEN SHOPPING!!!
So, we went to two PetCos and saw kitties!!
And then I went home and laid down with my big ol' Steinbeck.
And that's the most healing thing of all. Just being with Jim and the cat.