(for five friends)
C. You told me that you do everything in sagas. And so, in bouts, we have cried and exulted. From Texas you text me a photo of a photo of your first communion with the message: “Also, I imagine you will care about this.” So great a cloud of witnesses. The left side of the frame is cut out because you’ve taken the picture at an angle. Probably it is hanging in your grandmother’s house, above some stairs. You ascend the stairs to take the photo to send it to me. The fourth edge of the frame is cut off so I can tell that you’re thinking of me.
L. I could remind you about all the times that you took care of me. But I don’t. So rich our heritage of grace; a brighter dawn is breaking, so great a cloud of witnesses. You come over so we can celebrate your admission to rabbinical school. My roommate assembles you a cheese plate, makes tea. We talk about arriving at vocation at similar times and how that feels like a blessing. Across faith-traditions, we are partners in each other, but without breaking any rules. I tell you that I easily admit belief, I am proud of practice– but there are certain things that I am hesitant to attribute to religion. If you ask me about loving my neighbor, for example, I’ll defensively explain that it’s just a christian coincidence, “I was totally doing that independently of god or whatever.”
R. It comes as a surprise when you ask me if I want to go to church with you. The answer is yes both because I want to go to church and because I want to go anywhere with you. On a bench, outside before the service starts, my migraine assuaged but my words still fluttering, I interview you about going to church for the first time in six years. Inside we hear the story of a destroyed accordion and accidental sin. World filled with kindness, we walk all around looking for an ATM, it’s gotten cold and windy, and talk about our friends who are about to embark upon a trip to the desert. So rich our heritage of grace; So great salvation burns within. We are deciding to make something together.
B. Who knows what they’re projecting onto the wall. You’re telling me you used to want to get a tattoo of your dad’s name. It’s a party in Brooklyn and I don’t know if you realize that we have mutual acquaintances. Later, we go to all the same shows, all the same readings, all the same list-servs. Sisters in Jesus Christ, you say.
A. I tell you my most important story. The one I almost never tell because it feels too risky. If it is misunderstood, we won’t just all move on. I will break. We will break. I will have broken. A month later you tell me, “everything seems to be falling into place,” about your own life. I think this is the only story I have that only has one answer. We’re in felty darkness but I look down anyway. Your glasses are off but you excuse my additional lack of eye contact, you’re holding my hand, and watching me speak. The rest of my stories can be distilled into countless interpretations. I like to hear the things people come up with. But not with this one. I guard it and then deliver it only on the rarest of occasions, knowing that if you do alight upon the key, so glows Your glory in this place. It is an archive within a story. It is my biggest tale of grace. And the secret is that if you understand it then we don’t just get to both know the story. We get something else, too.
We get to make something together. So great a cloud of witnesses, so rich our heritage of grace, so great salvation burns within. So glows Your glory in this place.
C. Five months after we meet, we’re sitting at a blue-tiled diner table waiting for a plate of waffles or waffle fries– certainly something waffled– and you’re showing me that your Blackberry can fit horizontally, vertically, diagonally, neatly, along the grout lines. That works. That works. Something about geometry. Something golden about geometry. That, too. I already love you. And when I look up expectantly thinking the waiter’s got our order (not yet), you look down and because we’ve rarely broached the topic of god, to watch your fingers when you say, “you know, I told T that I think god brought me to ____ so I could meet you.”
L. My dear, dear friend: I think you must know what it means to be witness to the courage of others. B and I agreed over brunch, how moving it is, how important for us it has been to witness all of our Jewish friends, brave in their faith-practice, be life and joy and hope an peace. Between the two of us, it’s hard to know who was strong enough first. I think we’d both admit it was the other. For a long time, we never addressed the topic directly, we just walked together, interested in each other’s accidental religion but aware of its tenuousness. It’s nice to celebrate now. In bouts, we have cried and exulted. I hope you can tell that I’m thinking of you.
R. You had to buy the donuts to use the bathroom, you had to use the bathroom to make the video. You cut both donuts in half with a knife from our kitchen and we share them. One is frosted with something pink and one is filled with something pink. There are a dozen videos to choose from, and we do. I love you. I tell you that in I found out two years ago that religion was different than I thought it was. I kept looking directly at it, to struggle. Instead I had to get there by walking with friends. Instead we all had to be holiness and living power.
B. This time we have coffee, grilled cheese, french fries. “Look at us,” you say, it’s been weeks or months, “in our fitted leather coats.” I tell you I want to build an archive of experiences indexed to trigger particular affects. You tell me about being a teenager and manage a metaphor that includes front row season ticket’s to a comet, once caught in orbit, now tragically flung out. When we are together we seem to want to stay and stay and stay together. And later, in an email to someone else, you report the french fries. “Sisters in Christ,” you say. She points out that the whole point of affect is that it can’t really be explained or transferred. I don’t point out, because I don’t think of it, that the great thing about witnessing is that it’s an act which proves both the event and the witnesses. So great, so great, a cloud.
A. You’re in your office where it’s at least 90 degrees and every time you leave the room, the wind blows a stack of papers across your office and you return and have to peel them from between the desk and the filing cabinet, remove clumps of dust. The fourth edge is missing so you know I must be thinking about you. It’s light, your glasses are on, we’re looking at each other, separated only because this is video chat and a student is bound to come knocking on your door. You are overwhelmed with excitement and joy and again a glow of glorious grace. A brighter dawn is breaking. I know how good I feel because I can see it in the way you move. Once you find out what the good news is, you close your door, and exclaim. This is the second time that I’ve come to you and you’ve closed your office door for it: transformed it into a room of waking praise.
If you ask me about loving my neighbor, I’ll tell you that I love you. If you ask me how I got here, I’ll suggest that perhaps we brought ourselves so that we could (a cloud: a cloud!) meet god.