catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 20 :: 2013.11.01 — 2013.11.14



The summer after my college graduation, I went to intern with a non-profit organization in Three Rivers, Michigan. There, I lived in the basement of an Episcopal church (unaffiliated, but supportive of the organization) with my dreadlocked friend and her two pet rats.

The rats may have been a secret. (Don’t tell Jesus.)

This small town church, believing in the work of the organization we’d signed up with, handed us the keys to their extra space with, as far as we could tell, few strings attached. We didn’t even have to attend their Sunday services — a great relief to a couple of doubting and disillusioned twenty-something-year-olds. Living below 150 years of pious hands “passing the peace” was ironic enough for us skeptics. Still, we wondered if we should make an effort to attend, even if it did feel disingenuous. Maybe we were being tested…could there really be so few expectations? We weren’t sure how to react to such generosity, but because the space had been used by the non-profit long before we entered the scene, we tossed this detail concerning our new environment into the growing pile of things we’d learn to “get used to.”

In the beginning, our schedules were fairly slack. Too slack? Perhaps. Probably. We often missed the morning, and we always assumed a dreary day when we finally gave in to consciousness. Life underground was cool and damp and dark — our own oasis beneath the rising heat of a Michigan June — and the sound of dripping water persisted behind a door we didn’t dare open.

I have one line of defense when it comes to our slow awakenings, and after this, I’ll shut up: that basement was the perfect environment for snoozing far too late.

Since the only substantial source of morning light for our holy home was that of a of a blazing red EXIT sign, it was often the rats that finally woke me each Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday was the 9 a.m. organ blast and the congregation’s slow liturgies. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a creaking from above would accompany the cage rattles and rat squeaks. This creaking signified Soup Pot Day and translated to Quick! Get up and try to look like you’re not twenty-two years old and sleeping the day away.

On no particular Thursday, I checked the alarm clock (bright red and rarely alarmed due to our both being barely employed).

11:22 A.M.

A door opened from above, and footsteps shook the stairs from the sanctuary that led down to our cove. A light came on in the front room.

Hello, fluorescent day.

The rats knew when to be quiet. They stopped their spinning and shredding and we all pretended not to be there.

A woman came down to collect dusty cans of soup. We didn’t see one another because the moveable accordion walls were up, but I knew who it was. I listened as she hummed harmony to the hymn in her head, the memory of mother in a nightgown as she turned off lights around the house: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

This lady nearly caught me in a towel last week.

When the door closed and the basement dimmed back to red, I turned over, tugged my blanket to my chin, and laughed.  

Though the location of our little apartment never lost its strangeness, after a short while, we called it home. Our clothes were scattered across the floor. Our books and journals decorated the bedside tables. We slept there, we laughed there. We lied, gossiped and swore there. When being the new kids became too much, we’d slip away to our sanctuary beneath the sanctuary to play with the secret rats and eat secret Doritos and secretly pull ourselves together. When old wounds flared, I condemned the roof over my head and had a good cry. I threw countless punches at the ambiguous “church” with real men and women standing closer than ever — men and women who’d offered virtual strangers their space as if it were ours all along.

It was a confusing time, and many questions were gathered that I believe are worth a lifetime of consideration. I’m thankful to this particular congregation for allowing me to experience familiar colors in new ways. It was because of their hospitality that I found safety in the last place I expected. Today, I think about the twisting of shoddy can openers and the intermittent stirring of corn chowder, all for the sake of their hungry guests. I think about the woman who tentatively came to the basement to check on us after noticing that we’d left our door open (again). I think about the passing of bread and wine above me as I brushed my teeth or Skyped old friends to tell them about my peculiar situation.

Without their quiet, constant presence, I would have had no reason to wonder what made the ground holy. 

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