The Child Within

We’re late.
That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that we’re late for church. Yeah, that’s really unusual considering we’re Muslims and pray in a mosque.

We enter quietly through the huge back door and try to slip into the first empty pew in the back. Nope. Nothing’s changed from back when I was still Catholic. Everyone hugs the seats close to the aisles and no one wants to move in toward the center, forcing latecomers to be embarrassed while they climb over feet and lowered kneelers.

The priest is preparing for communion and while everything is as I remember it from all those years ago, it is strange to me. Of course, the mass is being said in Vietnamese. This is the funeral for the father of one of my son’s classmates.

He’s a senior this year. He’s done a good job holding it together for his mother and his younger sister. Each one standing in the front row with the traditional white scarf tied around their heads that symbolizes mourning.  In what seems to be the usual Asian culture, he remains stoic. His face shows no emotion as he stands beside his sister, wiping her silent tears away furiously because they refuse to stop streaming down her face. She is trying so hard to be as strong as her big brother. Her mother’s hands rest gently on her shoulders; her poker face on. The new head of the family appears to be a pillar of strength for his family; a man.

But he is only seventeen and as he turns his head to look over the crowded church, the child within him surfaces on his face. That look of panic and fear as he searches for his friends who he’s invited to support him in his time of need betrays his leadership role for mere seconds and then vanishes beneath the calm.

I think to the lyrics of Kid Rock‘s song, specifically, the line about being “caught somewhere between a boy and man.” I wonder if he would agree with me that this scene would perfectly personify these 7 words. Probably not. But I see it.

The priest gives the final blessing over the father’s coffin and the man-child arises to carry the framed portrait of the man who has led this family up until now. He leads the procession out of the church, his sister and mother with their hands upon the coffin as it is wheeled out to the hearse. His mother can’t hold it in anymore and breaks down at the huge outer door. The man-child once again allows the inner child to desperately seek out the friends that he invited to attend his father’s send off and he finds my son and my daughter and two other young men from his school. The child shows relief that others outside of his “church family” have taken the time to mourn with him the scariest loss he’s ever known and then ducks back under the seas of calm that have once again taken over his face.

I envy his control as tears have now soaked my entire face and most of my veil. I can’t find a tissue anywhere in this overly stuffed purse. No beach towel. Damn. I sniffle and shuffle out of the church with my teens bowing their heads out of respect toward the family. We get in the car and my daughter holds my hand between gear changes while I release my tears for this family’s pain all the way home.

I hope the little boy inside him finds peace.

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