I lost it in church today.
Our family has been through a lot of loss and grief in the past week. Week? How can it possibly have been only a week? But the world is turned so thoroughly upside down that the shock enabled me to hold myself together. Until now.
Oh, I'm still okay. Unless you count being touchy and frazzled and unproductive and unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes "not okay." Other than that, I'm doing fine.
But I'm highly sensitive to the power of music to bring forth emotions. Joy, sorrow, determination, tenderness ... music opens floodgates. There are songs that to this day reduce me to tears because of events that happened nearly 20 years ago.
I'm not surprised that I sometimes find it difficult to sing; the throat is not designed to handle sobs and songs at the same time. But this time it was not singing that did me in.
We were two of maybe a dozen people in church today, and we went into the service knowing it was going to be hard. We were spread well apart from one another, we'd already suspended the "passing of the peace," and made changes to the way we offer the Eucharist. (Quote of the week from our rector: I've used so much hand sanitizer today I'm afraid to go near an open flame.) Porter and I went further, wearing gloves, and—most heartbreaking of all—deciding not to take Communion. I doubt the latter was necessary, but out of an abundance of caution we took that step for the sake of others, in order to maintain distance. In an Anglican church, where Eucharist is the heart of worship and definitely not "just a memorial," that really hurt.
But we had counted on having the music.
We did, sort of. I'm rather proud of our "COVID-19 Concert Series" in which local musicians, who now find themselves unemployed as all their jobs have been cancelled, are hired to provide music for the service, even if everyone is watching the live stream instead of being in church. Today we had a young man who played clarinet, flute, and oboe, and we really enjoyed talking with him (from a distance) before the service about life as a professional musician, the dangers of air conditioning to wooden instruments, and the fickleness of oboe reeds.
It was lovely, but it was not enough. We are accustomed to a "sung service" with chants and music throughout. Today, for reasons I don't understand, it was instead a "said service." (That's "said," not "sad," but if I'd made that typo it would not have been inappropriate.) We had a few hymns, but we didn't sing the Psalm, and we didn't sing the Trisagion; we hardly sang at all.
Where it really hit me was during the Offertory. We had planned to sing one of our favorite anthems, and were thrilled to have flute accompaniment for it. But there weren't enough choir members present to make it work. Instead, we just had the piano and flute part together, which turned out to be very beautiful, but not singing along ripped me apart, exposing me to all the pent-up grief of the week (which would have been more than enough for a year).
Still, I know that if that's the worst of the grief this year brings, we are very blessed.
I also know why churches should not close any more than hospitals, grocery stores, and post offices should close. We must adapt as needed to minimize risk, and be patient with each other as we figure it all out. But this is not a social club. It's a life-and-death essential service.