I remember as a little girl going with my mother on Thursday, (or was it Wednesday?), evenings to change the flowers surrounding the altar of the church where my family were parishioners. It was a sacred time.
There was a smell, a feel, a sense to those times that remain long past the childhood years where they once lent such meaning. Motes of sunlight filtering through stained glass windows. Red carpet laid flat against the sacristy floor. Wood railings. Wooden pews. Silence. A smell of incense, of candles burning.
As my mother worked at the altar, I would sit in the front pew, my feet dangling from my legs, kicking back and forth, one after the other, then two together, then separate, creating a tempo only I could hear. My legs were too short to touch the ground.
I remember the hard cold feel of the wooden pew beneath the bare skin of my legs, the smoothness of the wood against the palms of my hands where they gripped the edges of the pew. I'd slide my body back and forth against the seat as I watched my mother work silently at the altar.
Where ever she went, my eyes followed her. When she carried a vase from the altar to the kitchen in the back, I'd hop down from my seat and skip towards her, until I remembered, or hist admonishen to 'Stop that' reminded me, that this was a holy place and skipping wasn't allowed. Quickly, I'd genuflect before the crucifix, never lifting my eyes to see the blood dripping from the body of Jesus held fast to the wooden cross with nails. I didn't like the blood. Blood scared me.
As fast as I could without running, I would follow my mother into the back. Sometimes, she'd let me carry a vase if it wasn't too big. "Be careful", she'd whisper as she handed me the vase. I was known for not always paying attention to what I was doing. My mind, off on some adventure, wouldn't connect to my feet and hands and I would often trip or drop things in my enthusiasm.
I remember the scent of the flowers. That slightly pungent aroma of stagnant water mixed with the heady aroma of roses and peonies and hyacinths. My entire being focused on doing the job right, I would clutch the vase in my hands, hold my breath in fear of one errant exhale pushing the flowers from my grasp. In the kitchen, I'd stand behind my mother, proffering my vase like a supplicant holding out an offering to the gods.
She would take the vase. Place it on the counter, carefully pull out dead flowers from the arrangement. Rearrange, reorganize, reassess. She'd cut off stems. Change the water. Mix and match bouquets, fill in gaps with the new assortment of flowers she'd brought in with her for the task and create new arrangements for that weeks ministries.
Carefully, we'd carry the vases back into the sacristy. She'd place them around the altar, on the steps, by the communion railing. She would move a vase here. Turn it around and around to find the best exposure for the flowers. Move it a foot to the left. Then to the right. Pluck a dried leaf off and tuck the crumpled refuse into her pocket. She'd push a leaf back, pull a stalk forward. Always rearranging, moving, shuffling the bouquets until they were perfect.
The church was silent, the only sound the quiet whispers of my mother's prayers. Sometimes, I'd interrupt her with questions. Always she would remind me to be quiet. Silent. Still.
Sometimes, another parishioner would drop by to visit the priest, or to complete some other task. Always, my mother would stop her activity for a few moments to say hello, to wish them God speed.
Sometimes, when she'd introduce me, I would shyly tuck myself into the folds of her skirt and peek out.
"Don't be shy," she'd insist.
I would pull out and forward, unwrap myself from the safety of her legs and say, "Hello."
Sometimes I'd forget to whisper when I spoke and she would remind me, "Softly. Speak softly."
My mother always said, "If it can't be said in a whisper, don't say it."
I loved those sojourns in the church with my mother. The quiet, intensity of her commitment to adding beauty to the sacred spaces. The sibilant melody of her whispered prayers. The time together that only she and I shared.
I loved the beauty of the bouquets. Still do.
I hated throwing out the old, dead flowers. Still do.
In the sanctity of those moments with my mother, memories were born, hope awoke and life was renewed. In the sanctity of those moments a little girl saw her mother in another light.
Have a blessed Easter.