The photo may be blurry, but the memories are clear and indelible. I’m still recovering from a long day of travel and a lot of emotion, but I’m also elated for my friend, the church, and myself.
And… I learned exactly how I felt about seeing my offender. Here’s how it went down.
I took an early flight yesterday, so I had lots of time in the city. Over a bowl of soup in a downtown food court, I thought about what I would do if I saw my offender at the service — or worse, if he saw me. What would I do if he approached me? What would I say if he spoke to me? I rehearsed all the possibilities; I felt ready for anything. I stopped dreading the encounter. I didn’t look forward to the possibility, but I felt ready. After lunch, I walked three blocks to one of the city’s great public squares, where I sat for an hour watching people: skaters circling a tiny ice rink under a brilliant blue sky; a man on the soapbox giving his testimony of healing from abuse; an earnest choir of homeless people singing songs of hope. Happiness seemed to fill the world — or at least that one city block. For me, it was an hour of pure bliss.
I walked eight more blocks to the cathedral. Inside, I looked waaaay up front (the place is as long as a football field) and saw the deacons-to-be rehearsing with the bishop. I walked quietly to a place where I could see without being seen. There was Victor, looking grand with a new haircut. I heard Monica’s voice, so I knew she was there. I didn’t see my offender at first. Then I looked to the pews on the right — and there he was. He looked thinner than I expected and he had new frames on his eyeglasses, but it was definitely him. He hadn’t seen me. I was still in the shadows well behind him. In that moment, I knew exactly how I felt about seeing him. My palms went damp. My intestines turned to water. I went downstairs to find the restroom. I briefly thought about hiding in there until the service started, but I remembered that was the restroom Monica would use. I went back upstairs, huddled among the tourists in the back of the church, and waited for my heart rate to return to normal.
Does this sound like an overreaction? Yes, of course it is — that’s why they call it hypervigilance.
I became aware the rehearsal had ended. Guests were beginning to arrive; it was time to find my place. I chose a seat on the far end of the fifth pew on the left. I looked through the printed program. I made conversation with the man seated next to me. I opened a prayer-book and tried to read the psalms. Then I looked over to where I had last seen Kevin. Now he was standing; he was walking back to his pew, facing me directly — and IT WASN’T HIM. I did a double-take. I did a triple-take. I stared until I was fully convinced this was the same man I had seen earlier, and it wasn’t Kevin. Relief flooded through me. He might still show up, but I wasn’t too worried. He had never enjoyed hanging out with other priests. As the long train of clergy filed in, I looked at every face, and he was not there. I felt jubilant.
Well — this blog may be about my experience, but the day was about Victor. The ordination service was perfect in every way; no one does liturgy like Episcopalians. The five deacon candidates were charged with their duty to serve God’s people; they were read their vows; they knelt before the bishop; they were robed in their chasubles and stoles; they received their Bibles; and finally they stood before us, ordained into the sacred order of deacons. By that time, I had made my way to the front. As the new deacons received their thunderous applause, Victor spotted me. Our eyes connected. Neither of us could stop smiling. This victory had been a long time coming. At our former church, he couldn’t even get a spot on the altar guild. Now, he was standing next to the bishop in a grand cathedral, robed in glorious red. Now, if that old altar guild wanted to talk to him, they would have to call him Reverend.
I thought it couldn’t get better than this. Then, during the Eucharist, it was Victor assisting the bishop with the liturgy. At the end of the service, it was Victor who dismissed the congregation with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The bishop could have chosen any of the five new deacons, and he chose Victor. In this grand and glorious ceremony, my friend held the highest place of honor. To see Victor shine so brightly, I would have been willing to face ten Kevins. (But I’m glad I didn’t have to!)