. . . from Elizabeth Strout’s sad and deeply true book Abide With Me.
This novel is the story of Tyler Caskey, a young New England minister in West Annett, Maine, struggling to find his calling and his balance again after suffering the death of his young wife. Set in the late 1950s, the story contains some very insightful reflections on “what it’s really like”.
Here I share a one of the many that struck me:
” . . . [L]ast Sunday, in the vestibule after the service, as Doris was pulling on her sweater, Tyler had said, ‘You’re pretty important to this community, Doris. I bet no one takes our fine music for granted.’ Of course people probably did. In fact, there were probably days people made fun of Doris once they got home and sat down for their Sunday meal, because the woman was compelled on communion Sundays to sing a solo, and every single time it was embarrassing–to see as well as hear. A choir member would play a few notes on the organ while Doris draped herself over the balcony, swaying to and fro. Tyler, in his robe, seated in his chair on the chancel, would hold a hand to his face, eyes closed as though in pious meditation, when in truth he was avoiding the sight of his restless congregation, the adolescent girls giggling furiously in the back row. But last week, hearing the operatic wails coming from Doris, it occurred to him he was listening to the manifestation of some inner desperate scream. This was a screeching plea from the woman’s soul, begging not to be inconsequential. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice . . . have mercy . . . and answer me. And so, coming across her in the vestibule, he had said, ‘I bet no one takes our fine music for granted.’ But the watery look of gratitude that came over her face as she tugged on her sweater alarmed him, and he thought it probably best to keep moving when he complimented her. He liked to compliment people–he always had. Who, after all, wasn’t afraid, deep down, as Pascal had been, of those ‘spaces of nothing . . . which know nothing of me’? Who, in God’s world, he thought, wasn’t glad to hear that his presence really mattered?”