I get married. It’s what I do.
I may have only one formal matrimony in my hamper, but make no mistake: I am the Elizabeth Taylor of forevers.
The liturgical calendar comforted my childhood heart. I drew little daisies around “Ordinary Time” in the bulletin, breathing sweet oxygen of green vestments and parables. “Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time.” “Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time.” It did not bore me. It did not fail or improvise or end.
In ninth grade, after three weeks of snack-sharing coincidence, I declared “Mushroom Mondays” an institution and began packing tiny Tupperwares of marinated fungus for my lunch table. Unsentimental Fred finally told me to stop. “Why does everything have to be a thing with you?”
When my new cats boasted a pageantry of behavior problems, and friends suggested I “return” them, I convulsed. Incomprehensible. They were mine. I had adopted them. They could burn the house to ash and behead every angel, but we were a family.
I did not call my Grandpa at 7:30 on some Sundays. I called my Grandpa at 7:30 every Sunday for twelve years. Made of the same crisp white fabric as me, he was ready with news items and favorite M*A*S*H* episodes to discuss.
Having written three essays, two Saturdays in a row, I sacralized the sixth day for a trinity of toil.
When my mother gives me a piece of jewelry, I wear it to the exclusion of all lesser baubles. World without end, amen.
In seminary, I thrilled to the concept of contract vs. covenant, finding words for the impulse that strung my synapses. Everything worthwhile was permanent as the love of God. It had to be, or the love of God might be in question.
I amassed unbreakables.
Once added to my birthday-card list, you will be removed only for death or crimes against humanity. Eldon from three churches ago may not remember me, but I will not forget him on May 24th.
After twelve months in my first apartment, I dug in for a decade.
Eight months into a new job, I plunged my roots to the core of the earth.
One month into my own deconstruction, I war-whooped that failure was not an option. This was a covenant, not a contract. This was a decision, not an experiment. I built moats around rupture and married myself to marriage itself.
I don’t leave.
If I loved you once, I will love you to the end. There is no end.
I eat my almonds at 5pm. I check in on Sad Mike every two weeks. I photograph the Bradford pear tree in front of my condo every first of April. I “Subscribe ‘n Save” to essentials.
I subscribe to the belief that everything can be a ritual.
But extraordinary times take the calendar by its spine and shake loose the leaves.
In my leaden loyalty, I forget that God is at liberty to make all things new.
Ecclesiastes always made me edgy, all that business about “a time to keep and a time to throw away.” I didn’t even want to “cast away stones,” my Rubbermaid of favorite pebbles from the softball field and the creek.
But my forevers were marbled with fear, which breaks everything.
I wanted it all to announce that I was safe. My devotion had to hold. The stakes were extraordinary.
If everything is granite, no geode can spill glitter. If everything demands loyalty, nothing is allowed serendipity. If everything is crazy-glued, movement feels insane.
If life is a march of forevers, you grow deaf to the God of jazz.
But the Surprising One is in the business of unplugging ears.
In the end that was the beginning, it took one forever to challenge another.
The promise I’d made was a prison I was prepared to defend. Contempt came as reliably as Vespers and Compline, and I ran my fingers over the barbs like prayer beads. I could keep bleeding. I had made a covenant.
In forty-one years of storms and liturgies, I had never doubted the existence of God. His exasperation level, sure. His capacity to be terrifying, certainly.
But suddenly, I was staring into an abyss I didn’t know.
I wrapped myself in routine but could not get warm. I wore my mother’s earrings but couldn’t hear her. Music was replaced with a long march.
I told myself that I feared losing the rock on my back. I had vowed to roll it all the way to heaven. Failure was not an option.
Until failure was given as grace.
A casual conversation about a cruise ship began the unraveling. The next thing I knew, forever was not mine to defend. Improvisation was the option. These were not ordinary times.
Rocks rolled. Pillars plunged into the sea. I could not pull the tides into my tidy schedule.
God blew the saxophone.
When the break came, fear fell off the altar, shattering into breadcrumbs.
I was bewildered. I’d thought I would be forsaken. I’d thought this would question every forever. I’d expected the end of my peace. I’d forgotten that I had no peace.
I breathed oxygen, which gave me strength to cast away stones.
I learned new liturgies and gripped lasting loyalties.
I am still a sacramental simpleton. I relish routines, bronze my bonds, and believe that everything can be a ritual.
But no thing can carry everything.
None of it can carry me.
I can’t even carry myself.
My devotion is an echo and an icon. Its very failure blows fanfare for the forever I can’t lose.
There are mysteries and mushrooms that can only be found in extraordinary times.
Angela Townsend is Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and B.A. from Vassar College. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her mother every morning, and delights in the moon. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Braided Way, Cagibi, Fathom Magazine, Feminine Collective, and Young Ravens Literary Review, among others. Angie loves life dearly.