Monday, February 4, 2013

A Belltower Promise

When I was small, my working single mother was alone in a new State with a baby and no support network. But she was a visionary, so she took us to church; i.e., a wonderful pre-assembled collection of sweet and compassionate people. Although spiritual, my mother is and was primarily a Science teacher, and she carted carrier, infant, diaper bag and purse out to that old stone church every Sunday morning not for God, but for a little compassion and a sense of community. Fortunately, they had it in spades.

We moved again when I was four, so only my earliest memories contain any trace of that place; the muggy heat of the assembled congregation, the subtle smell the old hymnals generated that filled the whole room, the big-girl purse I carried that contained nothing but a packet of travel tissues filched from my mother's own purse...the fact that the Sunday school's bathroom had a smirking frog painted on the the toilet seat lid. And, my first-ever regret.

Strange, of all life's firsts, to remember one's first regret, no? But I do.

The Sunday school/daycare, for the congregation's tiniest members, was taking a little excursion across the yard to visit The Church Itself. We were going to be taken up the belltower, to see the big bell and look out the windows. This was pretty rock n' roll stuff, for toddlers/lambs of the Lord.

Doesn't look that dangerous,
but appearances are decieving
I was delighted to be out and about, but when I started to climb the spiral paddle stair case, and I could see the receding floor between each paddle, I became frightened. My perception, warped by fear, made it seem as though the paddles were barely there; mere slips of solid matter to divide up the massive amounts of thin air. I had to go back downstairs and wait at the bottom of the tower for the group to come back down. It took ages and I felt miserable.

I regretted my cowardice almost immediately. Even a few short months later, and little Kana felt silly to admit she'd been afraid to climb those stairs. But there were no more belltower excursions in offer; the opportunity had passed. I grew older, and moved away -- we lived on a different part of the island, and I didn't see the church very often. Every so often, though, when our plans took us upcountry and we passed it, I would look up at the belltower and feel this strange sense of loss.

I grew up, and learned the word regret -- got to know it, had it over for drinks -- and eventually it made a home in me, as it does in most grown-ups. Fortunately my regrets are relatively few, but that first one -- that belltower one -- itched at me. Quietly, at the back of my mind, for nearly all my life.

Sorry so dark; but it wasn't Midday Mass, now was it?
Until this Christmas, that is! We went upcountry to see friends, and attended a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at that old stone church. One of my mother's card-game friends is the current minister's wife, and after entertaining them with the story of my belltower misadventure, she asked me if I'd like to rectify (Ha! Church pun!) that lapse. I don't think she was ready for the level of passion in my response -- it took her a minute to catch up, because in my heart I'd been climbing those stairs for years.

"Oh, you mean, right now?"

OF COURSE I looked down
I did it! I got to see that bell, and I (most evidently) photodocumented the holy heck out of it. And, as ridiculous as it may seem, I did get a little panicky about two turns from the top. It's not that the stairs were as ludicrously insubstantial as my childhood fears had decided; it's just that there's a gap at all, so you can see how high you are. The trick is to have someone else walk right in front of you and not look down.

Although it was too dark to enjoy the view out the window, I felt terribly pleased to have finally made the excursion. I'm sure my mother's friend was quite concerned for the poor aetheist girl, who is so likely mentally ill...but thanks to her graciousness, I got to make good on my first-ever regret. I think in retrospect that it was better, more satisfying, this way. It felt like closure.

Some of you might now be wondering, Well, what did it look like up there? Don't worry -- I gotcha covered. The camera clicked probably once every fifteen seconds the whole time. Well, that's what adults do when they're taken on excursions, right? If toddlers don't, well that's their own fault. A grown-up went up that tower, and was very proud to do so., click, click!

This window was labelled, for some reason;
click to enlarge
Totally worth it


  1. That's wonderful!

    It's funny, the things we remember of being a child. All I ever got out of the few years of church as a small child was "This Little Light of Mine" and the joy of the basement, church-lady potluck. :-)


  2. I just love this story.

    When I was a wee Loon, my parents took me to Sunday School. I was a very shy introvert kid who liked to observe rather than participate. When it was an older kid's birthday, they use to place them on a chair in the middle of a circle and we would celebrate with streamers etc. After a few of these ceremonies I realised those kids never returned to Sunday School. I was petrified that I would be placed in that chair and disappear forever. When it came close to my 5th birthday I refused to go .... EVER. My parents couldn't work out why and eventually my whole family stopped going to church because I wouldn't budge. I think they suspected something evil happened to me.
    It was only years later that I discovered those kids hadn't been taken by some angry god but had simply become old enough to attend Church with the adults. I still hate birthdays. Thanks a lot!!!!

    1. Awwww -- you were far too clever to be culled by the terrible Eater Of 5-Year-Olds. You've got ol' E-O-5-Y-O worried, now; you can just man-punch him in the face. He's not used to picking on people his own size.

    2. Somewhere deep in my early loonhood mind, I still believe those kids were buried at the back of the church.

  3. Dude, I had no idea you were still updating this blog. THANKS FOR THE HEADS UP.

    Jk, I love you.

    That dark picture of the church at night is totally awesome, btw. As is your story.

    Keep writing. Or I'll sic something on you. Like. I don't know. A giant leech or talking candlestick or something.