I have always been afraid of stepping on saints . . . .but more about that later.
If there is one thing about the merry side of Christmas that will forever be intertwined with my husband Jim, it is the eye twinkle. My husband was svelte and clean-shaven, where Santa is hirsute and on the husky side, and gives little hint of a diet outside my own preferred one of milk and cookies. But they share a patented twinkle.
As I have noted, the same spouse who could transform one of my grumped-of “parades of drudgery” into a happy occasion (by asking, “Who doesn’t love a parade?”) had a way of defusing anxiety with certain catchphrases.
Whenever one of use vacillated on a choice and surrendered a troublesome decision-making process with “Surprise me,” the in-house rhetorical response was (and remains) “Pleasantly, or unpleasantly?”
The nature of a surprise, unlike a shock, is inherently pleasant.
Sometimes, a surprise is breathtaking.
Visiting my son’s college recently to attend a concert and hear him play his golden trombone–his primary instrument since fourth grade–we found ourselves with extra time on our hands, having misjudged either our turnpike speed or the customary length of the trip. It was a blustery, cold, rainy day and the campus seemed nearly empty.
Waiting for the concert to begin, we decided to go into the college chapel. I had not been inside it since a Mother’s Day trip all of us, including Jim, had made when this son was contemplating where to attend college.
I gasped in astonishment at the way one wall lit up as we walked inside.
As a peripatetic youngster with no choice but to join my father as he travelled the world on sabbatical, including year-long stays in Europe as he guest-taught physics at Orsay and Saclay, I’ve been in considerably more than my share of enormous, imposing churches and cathedrals.
As a persistently gullible little sister, I also fell under the sway of many a terrorizing tall tale with just a grain of truth. (I suspect Jim, who had four little sisters, was at least equally as persuasive.) My older brother had me absolutely convinced–and I’m still not entirely sure it’s not true–that when we dared tread upon an engraved marble plaque on these massive floors, we were stepping on buried saints.
My walnut-sized toddler brain pictured robed saints, as they were depicted in paintings in the endless magnificent museums to which we also were brought (and ungratefully at that), lying just underneath the floor.
I hated going into those places.
I still sometimes get a small shiver when I pass the threshold of a church. (Thanks, Peter.)
But this time we stepped inside the Bowdoin College Chapel and saw, of all things, an angel playing a trombone-like brass horn, precisely bathed in a rainbow of reflected light from a stained-glass window high on the opposite wall. A rainbow of light spilled even from the musical horn’s bell.
Sunlight hit the stained glass windows atop the opposite wall’s painted murals at the precise angle that made it dance upon angels and saints in bursts of shimmering, twinkling, vivid color.