Pierre Gazarian: Memories surface during Easter Mass

Spring. Resurrection. Easter. Was I the oldest person at the Church of the Holy Family, United Nations Parish, on Easter Sunday? Not a good question. I feel half a century younger than my age tells me. At times so much younger that I’m not of driving age and I’m still learning how to read. I don’t even pretend. That’s the way I feel. I do not fully understand how old I am, the same way I’ve never been clearly aware of the passage of time in my daily life. When I am ahead I tell myself not to rush. A sure way to be late.

How old do I seem to others? I don’t care. Well, yes, I do. At least I know my dog, Nina, is pleased with my services. She’d better be. Except that I don’t get up early enough for her and I stay up too late past midnight when she’s already found the softest spot on the bed and has closed her eyes.

The church was full. Organ music took possession of the space. Richard Strauss’ “Solemn Entry for the Knights of St. John.” A bit heavy for me. Where’s Mozart, Bach? The organist, Paul Murray, was born in 1982. How young that seems. Twenty-eight years of age and making the music soar and move some of us to tears. It’s the music of joyful celebrations and of tragic ones as well. Life, death. The women in the crowd not as brightly dressed as I remember Easter crowds to be. No extravagant hats. I picked a flowery tie and a sport jacket. One usher, a man in his 50s, has a ponytail and a diamond in his left ear. Times have changed.

A large and sparkling ring on the hand of a tall blonde distracts me. I must look the other way. A woman in drab clothes raises her arms to the sky along with the Rev. Robert J. Robbins in his golden vestments. She’s the only one to express her faith with such abandon. The reverend and his entourage come down the aisle. Incense flows, candles burn, a wooden crucifix is held by a young man. Except for Reverend Robbins, all are dressed in white robes (cassocks, soutanes?) that convey spirituality. But you can see their shoes beneath the robes. They are humans like us after all. One pair of shoes must have had years of attentive polishing, a surprising burgundy shade blending with the original brown.

The homily is about resurrection. Reverend Robbins gives us hope, serenity. No threats of hell. He’s a fatherly priest. Children cry, parents rush in and out to calm the little ones. A tiny fly lands silently on my program near the Gloria section. A delicate visitor brand-new for spring. A messenger from God knows where. I want to show it to my friend Nancy. But it takes off when we start to shake hands with our neighbors. Communion. The expression of faith always moves me. It’s strong and fragile at the same time. It calls for innocence. Now it’s the moment in the Mass for “Blessing and Dismissal.”

It was a High Mass with its choir dressed in vivid red. Young participants moving down the aisle with their music. How it must feel to be one of them. How it must feel to be Paul Murray above us in the balcony, at the control of the organ with so many pedals and keyboards. What power, spiritual and physical. And only 28 years old. And the alleluias from the beginning of our lives.

Orient village on my mind throughout the ceremony. Our two little whitewashed churches, intimate and familiar, the anchors of the hamlet. I think of Don McNeill, my favorite preacher, who could inspire me just by being who he was. A few words in his warm, vibrant voice and I would know which road to take. The Methodist church still says, you can find Don McNeill here. Come on in. Or perhaps you see him working on the church steeple. He gave us enough of his energy and love in his first life that it persists today.

Many other names accompanied me at Easter this year. So many friends lost and yet not quite. So many resurrected within our thoughts. Don is the ambassador of them all, our kind and strong representative in that second life. We miss you, Don, on this Easter day.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. E-mail: [email protected]