Walking down the village to mass yesterday, I noticed three women in front of me all in black. The men outside the church were in their usual spot – all in black, too. Himself was in dark colours but I was in a bright red sleeveless jacket over a pale blue jumper with a multicolour blue scarf. I felt a little bright. I stopped and thought about turning back, getting out a black coat, and being late. I talked myself out of it. And into it. Then out of it again. I compromised. I decided we’d sit not in our usual seat but at the back of the church and I wouldn’t take communion. This, I figured, must be the village in its Lenten wardrobe. When I got a few looks of surprise as I dealt out my cheery good mornings, I knew that I’d committed a fashion faux pas.
Inside, in the back row, I had clear sight of what everyone was wearing. Some of the women had dusted off their purple hats. One was in beige, another in grey, three or four in various shades of purple and the rest were in black. And me. I was in red. Bright red.
Mass passed me by. I was deep in conversation with myself about whether or not I should go to Communion and draw even more attention to myself. I dithered between
Get a grip, Mary. Why do you care what they think of you?
For God’s sake, the least you could do is to respect how things are done. Weren’t you the one banging on recently about tourists in Stone Town not observing the Muslim dress code?
I’d bought the red sleeveless jacket back when I worked on the Alyeska Pipeline. The safety guy, Terry ‘Rabbitt’ Carter, was the first non-relative I was close to, to die. He had cancer. We weren’t great mates or anything, but we interacted fairly regularly and always had a good laugh. When he died, the jackets were sold to raise money to sponsor a room in his name at a local hospital that would be called The Rabbitt Den (I could be wrong about the details, but that’s the gist of what I remember, given that it was 20 years ago). I bought two – red for me and black for my dad. He was wearing his the last time I was home but I am sure I never told him the significance of the embroidered rabbit.
If Rabbitt stumbled across my mind in the last 20 years, they were seldom, fleeting visits. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and there I was sitting in the back of a village church in rural Hungary, many miles from Alaska, thinking about what he’d say to me.
There’s always a way, he’d say. Always a way.
I wanted to take Communion but I really didn’t want to parade up the aisle in bright red. My considerate gene was operating on full throttle. I didn’t have Rabbitt’s sort of bravery. His medallion of medals included a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Mine include a silver medal for the u/14 girls shot putt and a gold for the u/12 100 metres. No comparison. Yet I don’t think it was about being brazen enough to brave the stares and the tutts of disproval. It was more about not wanting to upset the balance for something so trivial. If I was going to alienate half the village, I’d prefer it to be because I did something a little more drastic than wearing red to mass on a Sunday in Lent.
There are too many battles waging in the world right now. Too many wars between personalities. Too many polarised opinions that are creating rifts in society. We’re a little too quick off the trigger to state claims, a little too quick to turn opinions into facts.
The priest was moving quickly through the Consecration. Decision time was drawing near when inspiration struck. The jacket had a fleece lining and was reversible. I could turn it inside out and be in black. The blue sleeves I could deal with. Always a way, Rabbitt, always a way.
When the congregation showed no signs of dispersing after the final blessing, it dawned on me why all the black – it was Ash Wednesday. [For those of you not in the know, the RC Church moved a lot of the holy days of obligation to the following Sunday. Busy people don’t have time to go to mass mid-week. So Ash Wednesday is now celebrated on the following Sunday.] The village was in black to take the ashes.
Funnily enough, my change of colour drew even more attention, among it a few appreciative nods and a couple of smiles. There’s a lesson there. There are times to change the world you’ve moved to, and there are times to adapt your world to where you are. The trick is knowing the difference.
Here’s to you, Rabbitt Carter, with thanks and fond memories.