crabapple liturgies

Today, I woke up and took my tea to the flowering crabapple by the pond. Two weeks ago, at the height of its flowering, the crabapple lost a branch to the high winds. It hung down alongside its trunk for two days, a dispiriting symbol of tragedy. The parks crew cleaned it away, and now only half a tree is there—its mournful stump cut clean by the conservancy staff.

There are many things in life we have to mourn: trees, people, futures, and pasts. Old selves, things we ruined or that ruined us, tears that can’t be mended from our side of the rift, irreparable losses to spring winds. Because we are humans and not lines of code, no human lives her life on a binary. Many of the beings we are obliged to mourn will be cataclysms that we think are “over,” they will be phantom branches long lost, they will be traumas we thought we healed from, long-ago wounds we have already mended, futures we have let go of, pasts we have laid to rest.

Humans are made not of lines but of memories. Memories are eternity constantly bubbling up into the present. One small sacrament of what used to be brings you back into the past. Or rather, weaves the past back into the present moment.

I sat shiva yesterday for unplanned losses—the crabapple, and other victims to Eastertime tornados. I binged-watched television, I didn’t leave my window seat for hours, consuming books half-heartedly and coffee more ferociously. I ordered an açai bowl from the local juice shop and left a crazy tip as retribution for my sins of ordering someone out into cold Sunday rain and in remuneration for crimes against my budget.

At 7 PM, New Yorkers’ devised liturgy of thanksgiving begins each day. Deprived of other Eucharists, I make a point to go outside each evening. Even if not for long—a minute or three—I feel it incumbent upon me, with the full force of social duty only known to enneagram twos, to leave my apartment and go out into the small symbolic public of our block. We make a strange band, but I make a point to show up for it, green vuvuzela gifted from a friend in tow. At 7PM, sirens sound, a horn honks, and windows open. People hoot and holler as musicians take our places. Themes and variations form in our improvised band. A buzzy dialogue of my vuvuzela and another’s down the street provides an ersatz brass underneath the jubilant clang of pots and pans. We create our thanks in city jazz.

I had just started the second episode of Crash Landing on You, and my heart was knees-deep in my own and the K-Drama feels when the clanging pots of neighbors grabbed my ears and my sense of social duty by the throat. It was 7 PM. Not today, I thought. No, today is for me. Today I do things like açai bowls and not talk to anyone except the greek chorus of female friends who help us bear the weight of our hearts. Today is a day not like the other days, it has been marked as “set aside” by rituals of nothing. Today is a day to acknowledge emptiness. Today, I let time stand still. Today, I’m not trying to move time forward or make time bear fruit. Today time is barren. Today, I cannot. Not today.

But I could not stay inside. So I grabbed my vuvuzela and claimed my space on the apartment stairs, letting my plastic trumpet chorus blend with the bells and the tambourines, the woodwind sound of whistles from the street, the shrill percussion of the kitchen spoons on tin. The babies in the windows across the street clap their hands, the dog walkers hoot and holler, and the passing drivers honk their horns. There is no bread and wine, but this expression of thanksgiving is an irresistible chorus of eucharist.

Today, I walked back to the crabapple. Time is a funny thing, even just 24 hours of it. You can travel so far some days, and some days you cannot move through it at all. It can bring you back into the past, and 8 hours of sleep can carry you back to the present. And sometimes just 3 minutes of it— just three short minutes set aside to blow your vuvuzela imperfectly but with improving embouchure with your neighbors—is the glimpse of eternity you awaited.

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