Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Bread of Heaven

Last weekend I drove back to my hometown and met up with some old friends. I hadn’t seen these guys for near decades, and thought how sad it was that we only get together for weddings and funerals anymore, most of us with kids and other responsibilities that keep us close to home.

The last time we got together was for a wedding, but this time it was for a funeral, my friend John’s dad Jack. Jack was 80, was a veteran of the Korean “Conflict” and a person I remember well from the afternoon he spent helping me fix my car, a 240Z, during college. Nothing like working on cars for men to bond, except I still don’t do much more than change oil and hand the guy who knows what he’s doing the right tools, which are occasionally beers.

It was great to see my old friends but also a bit scary to realize how quickly the last fifteen years have gone. Although Jack was exactly twice as old as me, 80, the forty-year difference seemed, well, not quite as long as it did when I used to hang out with these guys in college a couple decades ago.

But as scary as it is to realize how fast the years go, it’s also a good reminder of how important it is to live “in the moment” and enjoy now rather than fearing later.

So with my mortality in mind and my good, old friends around me, I went to the funeral, an early morning mass in the Catholic Church my wife spent every Sunday in after being adopted through Catholic Social Services.

I didn’t attend church much growing up, my family being a little like the one Jim Harrison described in the first lines of “A River Runs Through It,” which said “in my family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” When I read that, I wasn’t drawn to the story, but felt like I was finally reading about a family who took nature as seriously as we did. (That’s what probably what led to my family’s first write up in the New York Times as my brother worked his love of hunting and fishing into a job at Cabela’s)

So most Sundays I spent outside while my friends were inside, in church. I went a few times, to different churches, but never really learned the proper etiquette, which will be obvious here in a minute.

When the priest offered to allow “all Christians” to come forward for communion (at least I think that’s what he said!) I decided to step up, it having been years since my last one. It seemed like a great idea until I looked into the young priest’s eyes and heard him say, “The Body of Christ.” I froze, not knowing what to say, but finally, as if from on high, the right words came to me, from somewhere back in my diverse but sparse church experience. When I said the right phrase, I didn’t even stick around to see the priest’s (congratulatory?) response, but just moved along, proudly thinking that I “nailed it.”

When I got home and told my wife this story, describing the funeral, I told her how I slurred the phrase, wanting to move away from the awkward pause my bad memory created. She, of course, remembering that the last time I took communion in the Catholic Church I said “thanks” when the priest handed me the wafer, she pressed me for details, asking me to back up and describe the phrase I slurred to the priest before moving, pridefully, along.

“The phrase you’re supposed to say,” I said, “You know, ‘the Bread of Heaven.’”

I never finished my story about how sad the funeral was as she stopped me, nearly wetting her pants, laughing hysterically. Before long, she’d called almost all her Catholic friends, like some kind of perverted church phone chain, and each thought my phrase (that I still stand behind!) was not only incorrect but somehow hysterical.

Then, later, they laughed even harder for some reason I’ll never understand. When she asked me what I would have said if I’d made it to the “wine line” ( I just went back and sat down) if the priest had said to me, “The Blood of Christ,” I thought about it for awhile. Finally, after deep thought, the right phrase came to me again. I said, “Well, I’d probably have just finished the sentence.”

“How would you have finished the sentence,” she said, smirking, as if I was about to admit to some other supposed “gaffe.”

“You know,” I said, an air of self-satisfaction creeping across my face, as if I was about to destroy the witness on brutal cross examination.

“Shed for you,” I said, walking away triumphantly.

But, for some reason, they all seem to think this is funny too. Just goes to show you the type of people I have to deal with on a daily basis.

So I guess if I get a chance to go fishing this weekend, there’s only one correct response:


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