Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ode to the Chapel

 I can't see. If something is close and small, it might as well be invisible for all I can make of it. Like many others of my age with my condition, I carry reading glasses. Always. Unless I forget. Which is often. It is then that I look to my friends -- like the women of the Little Chapel -- who usually have extra "cheaters" lying around. Then, with help, I can better see what is close in proximity and close to my heart. But I am still clumsy and a bit selective about what I notice.

As I stumble through this life, it's easy to focus on the obstacles that trip me up. What is harder to see are the forces that help to keep me upright and moving. I have to admit that I have covered some ground over that last decade, even if the path has been fraught with frustration.

Of the help I have been offered, one source stands out today. That is the Little Chapel of All Nations, the people who work there, and the cats who have comforted me, especially when I walked with the black dog.

It's a modest, attractive place, a jewel set in the showy hubbub of frat row. It is an island of calm surrounded by a vortex of self-importance, pettiness, and university stress. It is the beating heart of humanity and sanity in the hurried body of my work life.

But why, you might ask, do you say this about a place I don't know, have never heard of?

Well, I might answer, because it is the hub of just about everything I have done with my days that has lasting consequence in the world of heart and soul.

A few examples.

A while back a friend was released from prison. Now being released into the free world is a wonderful and terrifying thing. This man was met with a halfway house full of the things that would pull him back to the streets and likely to his heroin addiction. He was desperate to get a toe-hold in a life outside of hustling, prostitution, drug dealing, and convict thinking.

I mentioned his situation to one of the women at the Chapel and she mentioned it to a friend of hers who happened to have a guest house. That friend ended up offering the inmate a place to live. That place was the toe hold he needed.

He's been clean and making it for almost two years. His life is not easy, but it is working.

Another time I was sitting at the desk in the homey parlor of the Chapel after hours. I was thinking about another fairy tale of sorts. An inmate in the writing workshop had written a story about kindness and how he had been softened by the kindness of a stranger. It had quieted his anger and his violence. That story I read on the radio, and a film maker heard it. He decided to make a short film.

So I was thinking about this and how the student paper had shown no interest in the story when I suggested it as an article idea. In walks a couple of young women and they sit and talk at the couches of the parlor. We strike up a conversation and I mention the story and the lack of response by the Daily Wildcat. One of the women says she is reporter for the paper and is looking for just such a story.

She writes it. The movie gets made. I send the inmate a copy of the article. He is released the day the film opens at a film festival. He gets paid for his creative work.

The stories go on and on. K. and his meditation sessions. C. and  her help with the prison magazine. R. and her empathetic ear, her wise counsel. D. and his stories of Brasil, Peru, Chile, and the deserts of the world. The music, the images, the quiet calm. The Chapel hums with behind-the-scenes connections. The work is the selfless kind, not so much my will as Thy will, less about "me" than about the shared spark of "us." It is a quiet teacher, with words that are few but the ones most worth hearing.

The Chapel works its magic, its alchemy. It takes normal life and turns it into wonder. The chapel speaks the language of soul. It offers what is needed when it is needed to those pilgrims lucky enough to stumble into its comfort.

I have my problems. They loom large on my path, but  my feet step forward, pulled by the help I receive along the way.

What I know is that I would be poorer without this quiet place, this diamond in the rough of the university. I want to hold it close, tell it how grateful I am, put it in a jar to carry with me.

The second I try to hold the spirit of the Chapel, though, it slips away, mercurial as mist, off to the work that needs to be done. As it does, I take off those glasses and put them back in the drawer so they will be there I need them again. 


  1. What a wonderful essay and ode to the Little Chapel! We are happy be there for you and all who cross the threshold. Moses has been known to lure a few in himself. Thank you for that superb article.

    1. After talking to Carter, this thing wrote itself. Long overdue and barely adequate for all I have been given by you guys. Mucho Carino Always!