Are you there God? It’s me, Yelp.
Having ended the work week last week with the tragic death of a young man from our community center, my weekend then started with the unfortunate death of my husband’s grandmother. While sad, this was no surprise; she was 96 years old, and had been in decline for the last 6 years. Nevertheless, much suckage all around.
Grandma’s wake was this past Monday, and the funeral this past Tuesday. The funeral was a slushy trip to the cemetery and a lovely lunch with close friends and family – preceded, of course by a full Catholic mass. Now, I’m not a regular churchgoer, which I’ve explored previously [lapsed Catholic?], but have the utmost respect for those who do. I was thrown off by the new-fangled prayers, songs, and changes in the ritual that were instituted in 2011 (Vatican 2.5?), but I was able to follow along. However, the novelty of the New Mass, and even Grandma herself, were less prominent than the floor show to which we were treated:
The naughty altar boys.
We were never formally introduced, but they were thusly christened Dopey, Pokey, Giggles, Smirky, and Yawny. Throughout the mass, their mischievousness was a slow burn. In the beginning it was someone who wasn’t paying attention, or an unconcealed yawn. They began to pick up some steam during the sermon, with faces being made across the altar, sending others into fits of semi-suppressed, yet very audible laughter. My favorite was the impudent facemaker, who seemed to egg others on…and on.
Despite the sad circumstances, and otherwise reverent setting, my mind was focused on unholier-than-thou thoughts: Do churches have listings on Yelp? If so, would it be in poor taste to write up a nasty review on this particular one? Can I Yelp altar boys, or is there an age thing where it’s child abuse if I say anything bad to/about them? I’d certainly love to Yelp their parents, or at least their catechism teacher for doing a great job on teaching discipline and respect for the dead.
Is that even possible? Just how far does the power of Yelp extend? Would such an act result in smiting or excommunication? I’m not sure how I ever managed to sit, stand, and kneel in unison, because my mind was racing with very un-Christian thoughts of altar boys facing various fates filled with yelling (lots of yelling), embarrassing poopy-pants incidents, and very mean nuns.
The mass came to a close. The funeral home attendants accompanied the casket out to the hearse, and the rest of us filed out in a somber procession behind it. The priest stood just inside the door, shaking peoples’ hands as they exited the church, the altar boys in formation somewhere behind him. As I made my way towards the exit, I debated first whether or not to shake the priest’s hand (surely, he’d be able to tell how unclean my thoughts were, and ask me why I didn’t take communion); mostly, I debated whether I should say something to the little turds.
As it turns out, my brother-in-law was a few people ahead of me, and I saw him stop to say something to the boys. From his expression, it didn’t seem like an angry exchange, but I wasn’t sure. Would he have chastised the boys for their impudence and disrespect? I don’t know him that well, but I’m fairly certain he took it easy on them, something more along the lines of “Listen guys, that wasn’t cool. You should be more respectful.” In those brief seconds I had left, I decided two things: 1) I wasn’t afraid of the priest; and 2) I had to say something to the priest or the boys that would simultaneously convey the seriousness of the situation and model appropriate Christian behavior.
And so it was set in motion:
Three steps forward: I shake the priest’s hand, and manage to say “Thank you, Father.”
Two steps past him: I slow my pace, and stage whisper to the boys (complete with finger wagging), “You’re all going to hell!” I don’t know if the priest heard me, but five sets of eyes bugged out and looked quickly away.
Ten steps forward: Bleak winter and somber setting be damned; I emerge into the sunshine, smiling. I don’t need the anonymity of no stinkin’ Yelp. I can exact my vengeance face-to-face.
As I write this, I laugh at the memory. I have to laugh, because tonight is our young man’s wake; tomorrow, his funeral. Winter is bleak, once more.
In recognition of the absurdity of it all….
“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope.
Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life.”
– Phil Connors [Bill Murray], Groundhog Day