Every week when I sit down to write my Rookie diary, I always think, Hmm, nothing has happened this week, so what shall I talk about? But of course things do happen, things are happening all the time. It’s just that they’re often hard to translate into words.
But this week, something big and concrete happened to me: Christmas! Then again, that happened to a lot of people. My first Christmas present arrived on Christmas Eve: my period! When I complained about it to my parents, they pointed out that that also probably happened to a lot of other people, too, which was comforting. I went to my first church service in a while—a thing that perhaps a number of people do but maybe not that many 17-year-old girls with social anxiety and priests for fathers. I didn’t go on Christmas morning, because I didn’t really want to sing carols through grimaces of period pain. I chose a tiny half-hour service at 11 o’clock on a quiet Thursday.
I am trying to work through this anxiety I get when I have to spend more than 15 minutes in one place. My instinct is to find the escape route and run as quickly as possible towards it. But on Thursday the church held only a few people, and my dad, not conducting the service for once, was steadfast beside me.
I had popped into church the night before and felt a feeling of discovery as I left, of lots of interesting things that I hope I will speak of in the future (Ooh secrecy! Stay tuned! Come back next week!), but I also discovered that older women don’t mind your talking about music careers and the perils of hair dyeing, and that the majority of people have the warmest smile for you and don’t mind telling you how nice you look, and that this can make you feel a lot better after a slightly grueling day, and there is another and for good measure. Oh yes AND you can also meet the other vicar’s daughter for the first time, and she wears an Amnesty International sweatshirt and likes Bruce Springsteen!
So as the small group in the church were silent in prayer, I thought I’d close my eyes for a bit. I’ve never felt so calm amongst the whole madness of Christmas in my life. Next thing I knew, what had probably been a minute at the most seemed like 10. I opened my eyes and tentatively looked around, hoping I hadn’t fallen asleep, and realised I’d been left to do whatever I had wanted. No one was looking at me, no one was silently telling me what to do. I felt, for once, completely unselfconscious. As a teenage girl who walks down streets avoiding glances from the insides of cars, aware of every move and sound I make in front of people, wanting to always give the right impression, I felt…lovely. I can’t think of a word that properly encapsulates the feeling, even if it was fleeting. Ever since, I have comforted myself when on the edge of anxiety by thinking about the next time I can go to church. Can you believe it? A youth! A swearing, leg-revealing, quite materialistic youth! But no one at church has ever made me feel like that.
So now I feel so much closer to an understanding of all the people in my father’s church, and also perhaps why he has so much care stored up for them. Because for people with no family, with nowhere else to go, those one or two days of the week when they can go to church and take a break from loneliness or low self-esteem or stress or sadness or anxiety are something to actually look forward to. This is why I get upset when people criticize church. Yes, organized religion can be very corrupted by greed or prejudice–but all the little people, the little churches that struggle to get enough money to run day to day, should not be blamed or laughed at.
The vicar’s sermon that Thursday compared the Christmas story to The Lord of the Rings (which had me straight away). Both stories started small (the shire/Nazareth; Bilbo Baggins/Mary) but led to huge consequences for the whole world. Well, that’s the same for churches, isn’t it? And perhaps politics too. Basically when you get down to it, that’s the same for everything. Everything starts small, and even on weeks when it feels like nothing much has happened, something’s just beginning. ♦