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building bridges…

Today I’m thinking of the tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. I’m thinking about the progress over the years, of beginning as a part of something bigger, a jutting out from the land mass to finally becoming the island perhaps it always thought it might become. When the tides come in the small connection between the mainland is severed and the island becomes nearly in accessible. In time, without man’s intervention, the tidal island will become completely cut off from the larger body. Dams must be made. Bridges must be built. Left to its own devices, nature will take its course and the island will emerge; stagnant, alone, defiant.

It’s taken a few days to consider how to write about Pascha this year. During that time I sat down at the keyboard no less than a handful of times. Every first line was treated to the backspace key. All that came was a list of impressions and a stirring of something that words seem to flee, like mercury at the introduction of heat.

It was new this year, of course, new city, new community, new immediate company in the form of having my kids and husband in tow. “In tow” is appropriate where the kids are concerned. As much as I tried to build up the impression that it was an adventure, a new thing, a challenge, a celebration in the weeks before Pascha when the stroke of midnight came no one was eager to embrace that particular adventure. And so they were with me, in tow.

Nonetheless, there is one lasting impression outside of the crying children who splayed themselves on the floor and passed out halfway through the Divine Liturgy, outside of the worry that my husband was rueing the day I decided to become Orthodox, outside of the thunderstorm raging outside our small church, outside of the fear and the doubt and the unknown ahead. The one lasting impression I carried away this year was this sense of longevity, strength of the story and a notion of shared history- Orthodox christians now and always, saying these words over and over, repeated actions of bowing and making the sign of the cross, reaching down to gently touch the floor in metania.

No one does it quite like the Orthodox, but then again, they’ve been doing it a long time. They’ve had a lot of practice. There is something comforting about entering into a tradition, becoming a part of something established. As much as I had kicked against the status quo all my life, fought the powers that be, tried to bring about reform and rallied for the underdog cause, being Orthodox affords me the opportunity to put down my sword and shield for a little while. It’s a safe place because it’s unchanging, if that makes any sense at all.

Last year I stood outside Holy Trinity in Nashville, having decided at the last minute to embrace anonymity rather than risk engaging the small community at St. John’s. It was a choice I regretted almost the moment I made it. I left it up in the air until the road split, north and south. I went south. As much as I wish now I’d gone North I can see the logic now. In the end the loss was palpable for me, standing in a large crowd of the faithful, not knowing one soul by name or by sight. I was the observer, the outsider, the watcher I tend to be when I am most uncomfortable. I was that tidal island and that water was high.

But this year I was greeted by name, by touch, by embracing, kissing and kind words. When the storm intensified outside I could turn to someone I knew and ask whether we’d still make the trek around the block. When Miles began to cry to go home to his bed I received a sweet arm around my shoulder from a woman who has been there, who was able to chuckle appropriately and then encourage me when I’d whisper, “Just promise me I’m not scarring him for life by dragging him out at Midnight like this.” This year I did not duck out short of the feast, crying alone in my car as I drove home for what I still did not know, what I could not understand and who was not there to answer my cry of Christ is risen!

Regret is a fine place to visit but a terrible place to live.

As much as I regret some choices I made in Nashville now I am thankful to see first hand the goodness and mercy of God, not merely because of the assurance that I’m not cut off from my Orthodox friends in other parts of the country or even the comfort of knowing I have a place here in Chicago now but more precisely the evidence that I can find my out of my own social anxiety island and that if I keep reaching out into the dark, eventually I will find a hand to grasp and ultimately, this will be what brings me back into the light. Perhaps just as Christ becomes the bridge between death and life, connecting us to one another when the sea threatens to cut us off and when we threaten to let it happen, it is finally risking community then that keeps us anchored to the far shore.

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©2021 by Angela Doll Carlson