The rectory living room was a startling jumble of Victorian antiques, an orange plaid couch and a green reclining chair. He lived by himself there, the church having sold the other enormous old ark when his mother died, reasoning that one lone priest couldn't possibly need five bedrooms. So now the rectory was a charmless brick ranch house. It stood, alone and unshaded, far back from the road on an entire unimaginative acre of unlandscaped ground, which he mowed himself every summer Saturday.
It was difficult to stay ahead of the clutter, and he didn't devote a tremendous effort to doing so. The church had no offices; I came to the rectory on Friday mornings, and he would set me up at his kitchen table with his big grey Royal typewriter and the changes for the service bulletin and I would type the whole thing out, with the announcements. From top to bottom, everything had to be typed anew, even though the bulletin was almost identical from week to week -- there were no computers in those days.
I typed the Easter bulletin on Good Friday; we had no service in our church that day, as the annual ecumenical preach-off on the Seven Last Words happened at noon in the Methodist church, not at ours. I also worked at Sears, which was closed on Good Friday. So the bulletin was my only job for the day, a welcome easing of a load that was usually a lot heavier on a Friday. I would get to go home and be with my little girl instead of working all day. A good Good Friday.
The little house was filled with music when I arrived. This was unusual. I always play the B Minor Mass on Good Friday, he explained, while I'm writing my sermons. I sat down and began to tap away at the bulletin as the choral sections swirled mightily upward, as the baroque trumpets announced their majestic conclusions, tapped away as flutes and strings introduced the quiet little chamber pieces in between them.
I would go to the preach-off, to hear him preach his sermon. I would think him the best of the lot, would think him more dignified than the rest, more dignified than his cluttered living room and kitchen showed. Most of us are.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. As I typed and listened, I saw that there was more in the house than the Formica and chrome table and the folding chair on which I sat. More than the barren backyard at which I stared out when I looked up from my typewriter. There was more than the same hundred hymns we always sang, something that was to them as the cathedral at Chartres was to our little church building. Other centuries, other minds, great ones, whispered from behind the salt and pepper shakers, the stacks of mail, from behind the too-small plaques and the calendar of too-brightly-colored nature scenes hanging on the kitchen wall. Deum de deum, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero...
There was a story besides our story. A place beyond that little place, beyond my home, our village. There was a life beyond my mistakes and limits, beyond my fragile and improbable hopes to make something of myself. There was a sorrow beyond any of my sorrows, and maybe there was a joy beyond that. I wasn't sure yet.
Et expecto resurrectionem, mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi.
I don't know who typed the bulletin for him after I left town. Maybe he went back to typing it himself, tapping away in the kitchen while Bach's Mass in B Minor played in the living room. I still have the little plaque they gave me when I left. It was dark brown plastic that looked like wood, with a blue boat on it: The sea is so big, it said, and my boat is so small.