This minister, this Congrega tionalist, snapped her fingers and shackles tured to vapor that we were meant to inhale, then exhale. And in the interim of that breathing, we were to be changed, made more like Him we were to serve. She told me once when we'd had cofee to discuss my writing and my faith that church wasn't simply a building or a denomination. It is people brought together by God, to love and praise Him, to love all others, and to spread to others the good news of God's grace. Our home in the next town over was an old one when we bought it, and as busy as Mom and the rest of us were, we had neither the time nor the resources to maintain it.
More ofen than not, it did all the things a house was supposed to do. Walls to keep out the cold. Windows fom which we could watch the sun bleed across roofops and the underbellies of clouds in the fall.
A yard in which to rake leaves when they felL Even a driveway where Mom could park the family minivan she used to take us to and from college and the scarred, world-weary Subaru Legacy we drove everywhere else. Both rear windows bore decals from every school we'd attended from middle school through college, until an errant tree branch during a storm caused u to have both windows replaced. Stamps in the passport, we would call them.
This wasn't particularly odious. But, hke the FAFSA forms we had to fill out every year for financial aid from the government, and like the offices we would help Mom clean every weekend as part of her second job, it was a reminder of how much we didn't have. And whenever I'd return to school, surrounded once again by kids who wintered in the Swiss Alps and summered in Barcelona and autumned on Cape Cod, kids who had sprung ito an existence that did not hold within it the possibility of leaky roofs, our own became a persistently crippling reminder of just who I was and where I'd come from.
One long weekend away fom school, I'd come home and as the car pulled up to the front yard, I saw men in the early fall warmth standing on our roof, girded with tool belts and armed with working gloves and thick, paint-stained Timberland boots. I didn't recognize them from anywhere and was further surprised when I noticed my brother, the self-proclaimed laziest member of the family, up on the roof with them. I asked Mom, when she came to the door, what was going on, what miracle Id been caught witnessing, and when she tld me the men were fixing our roof, 1 asked her how much she needed, so that I could feel good about helping to pay it of She told me they were men fTom church and they were working for free, whereupon I found myself fighting back reflexive tears.
It wasn't until later that I unearthed the rest of the story.
Science Fiction Book Group
At our church, in the corridor bridging the social area and the sanctuary, there's a prayer board to wruch chUl'ch members can affix post-it requests for prayer: a loved one diagnosed with cancer, an extended unemployment stretch, even the occasional struggle with substance abuse. They can post anonymously, or they can sign their first name at the bottom everyone knew everyone, more or less, even our woebegone family. Mom had posted a note about our deficient TOOf And several members of our church, themselves brothers whose father owned and maintained a contracting busi ness, answered the call.
And were they to be asked why, they would have answered, I'm sure, that it was what Christ would have done. In that moment, I'd never been prouder to call myself a Christian. God exsted in the acts of others. Similar to Francis Kilvert's description ofrus pas toral rounds of the Welsh countryside. Not once does he mention God. Not once does his mouth morph around the word, the name, the title. But in every utterance there exsts the breath of the divine, Kilvert the vessel through which God re-experiences the world He created. Thereafer, every time I saw that head church spire, I felt, without quite knowing why or how, that the shackles I had not known were binding me had ben turned to vapor.
Early on in meetings, there was a lot of talk of prayer. What came up most often was the Serenity Prayer, which was, at its essence, a verbalization of the stepwork we were supposed to do to keep the gift of sobriety that had been bore out of the even more inscrutable gift of desperation. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. A shortened version of an old American theologian's incantation, it was one of the phrases I heard so often in the beginning that it had swiftly become white noise.
Журнал «Asimov's Science Fiction»
Still, whenever I thought about the entreaty, and the motley crew who had taught it to me reformed heroin junkies, methheads, and drunks , it stirred me. My background, being formed largely in New England churches, had instilled in me a facility with prayer, with being able to find the right words to baptize the food before 28 Tochi Onyebuchi Asimov's a family meal or to enlist God's ad in the salvation spiritual or physical or both of a concerned acquaintance. I could talk it as I was supposed to talk it, but coming into meetings, I was confonted for the first time with the interalization of the act.
Looking, for the first few times, at the people around me, I found I was staring at a room full of people whose prayers had gone unheeded. And hovering in the stale air of the room, mingling with the nicotine-tick odor of self-rejection and loathing, was the question "why didn't God answer my prayer? Surely, they had prayed to keep those things the disease took from them. And the beguiling leviatan that smiled in side them at the sight of a drink or a needle, surely it was a weak enough beast for the Almight to defeat.
(Isaac) Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
There's the platitude that we can't possibly know God's will and our suffering is in the furtherance of some larger, nobler design. Pharaoh's heart was hardened against the Israelites for a divinely ordained reason.
But [ think it might've been safe to as sume that such an explanation wouldn't have reassured anyone there. Or might it have? There they were, sitting around me in chairs borrowed fyom the adjacent sanctu ary, wary of accidentally scufing the floors when they shifed out of nervousness or reflex, alive. And, for the most part, sober.
The clanking I'd thought I'd begun to hear after a few months wasn't the tinnitus of alcohol-induced aural damage. It was men on a roof with my little brother, fixing the damned thing. The devil never sleeps. The devil is always busy. It is not enough to win once. One must win over and over and over again.
There are no porches in the Walled City. Ofen, because buldings go up so quickly with the unregulated construction, neighbors siphon utiLities from each other, a wa ter pipe running fom one dwelling to another up and across a passageway whose foundation is equally unstable. Even if one were to traverse the network of alleys and gangways overhead, linking the City's North and South Ends, one wouldn't be able to escape the odor that rises fom the waste below. Television antennas tangle in the laundry laid out on clotheslines.
Water tanks and drug addicts litter the rofs, lghting up underneath the sunrise, sheltered from the heat by the tanks' shifing shadows. Doctors operate without license. The sneakers sold out of one shop reek of the meat chopped and processed in the next one. The windows are without calcula tion, the streets open to prostitutes while, every Sunday moring, a priest hidden somewhere in the maze leads a pre-recorded choir in the Doxology, then preaches a sermon from the same passage in First Timothy. But Jake, one of the men I first went into space with, he built a claustrophobic ve randa out of scraps left from construction of the bar he planned on opening.
Both the bar and the veranda in violation of colony planning codes and common sense. But in this corer of our Paradise, no one seems to mind. It feels a lot like home. Someone's home, at least. Coming to space, we didn't leave behind te urge to reproduce what we had left be hind, and Jake goes inside, then comes back out a few minutes later with an old, weathered bottle of Jim Beam. R Stag. I can still see the numbers on the faded, creased price sticker. I don't ask Jake where he got it fom, but there's only a bit lef in there. Three, four fingers maybe.
He pours half in his glass and half in mine. There's a story there and I wait for him to tell it. There's a niggling in the back of my mind that this is wrong, that I've been sober for eight years, that I was sobr when I made the biggest deci sion of my life and left what remained of my family to go to space. But I don't want to place of Worship 29 September 4 stand in the way of his story, so I keep quiet. He's never seen me drink, so why would he know any better? Maybe he needs this. The bttle, he tells me, was his grandfather's.
A deacon, by Jake's recollection, who had an otherworldly respect for astronomers and astronauts. The man witnessed that first moon lancing through a television screen and preached an ad hoc sermon in the living room that evening, a quiet afair for his family stating that Man had been brought closer, by that act, t God; that shooting into the stars was only possible because we'd been humbler than the angels who had kept God company for so long.
That, as a species, we were inclining toward something greater, grander, some im mense destiny unfolding for us that we could not possibly know but that God, smil ing behind his silver beard, had bestowed upon us. Jake had brought the bottle out with him because he wanted his grandfather to see space fom where he sat. It was beautiful, and it was quiet, sure. But it wasn't all it was cracked up t be.