Being Up Here
I make a trip down the mountain to the grocery store, do it all the time, write about it all the time, know pretty much how it will go, as expected, character being mostly habit—sound familiar?—that comfy place of certainty or belief one is tossed from by an urge, it could be any urge, doubt for instance, but for me right now it’s this one: to stop and investigate that old graveyard I have passed many times on my way elsewhere always saying: “I should stop and investigate that place someday!”
Who knew that today would be the day I’d stop, that today the pastor of the church across the way would see me gadding about with camera among the stones engraved with names of those departed from living memory, that today this companionable fellow would amble over and introduce himself and say: “You seem more interested in this graveyard than in my church, so how about it what do you say let me give you a tour because up there in the steeple we have a great brass bell cast in Troy in 1853 and you should see it!” and that today I would say: “Sure!”
What luck then to be led by a friendly pastor wearing a slouch hat (something right out of the Civil War) over to his church where inside the air is cool and the big room is tidy cool well-lit and vaguely mildewy in that pleasant way old wooden worship-houses are that have been closed up with prayer books and hymnals all winter fragrant with someone’s great-great grandparents’ devotions still.
Up the stairs we go—“Look at the craftsmanship in this carved railing!”—the feel of it is to join hands with the many faithful who over generations ascended this same flight sliding palms along till old wood became smooth as cloud, up we go to the choir loft and beyond, up now a steep wooden stair polished by hand-and-foot generations of sexton ascension through small door into tenebrous regions even more still—“Watch your head!”—duck and enter an attic of beams hand-hewn from oak everything lofting in time-thickened darkness, bell rope dangling a loose end, pastor gives it a few for-example tugs and the great bell starts ringing above, the floor reverberating beneath our feet, the oak beams happily creaking for a break in the long silence, then when it comes back we continue our way upward on rickety wooden ladder leading through narrow passage into thicker darknesses to arrive on steep slope of original church roof with copper shingle patina, area all enclosed by base of the steeple proper, above us its floor, another ladder leads up through yet another narrow door that when unsealed lets bright light stream down and up we go at last to stand inside the spacious steeple itself that touches the sky just on the other side of these long-established walls.
Here in the middle of it all: the great bronze bell, above it and us vast enclosed space gyring for another long stretch but oh so much sun streaming in through the large slats of steeple wall, a little window providing lookout upon the cemetery below and I say: “Wow, being up here is just about the last thing I would have expected today!” and the pastor, smiling, says “Praise the Lord!” and the rest goes as expected.