Inside the church, the air was hot, like a weight pressing down on the building and the congregants in it. Summer in Chicago will do that.
The service was nearing its end. My husband and I sat shoulder to shoulder, lost in our own thoughts. Mine shifted between prayer, reflection, daydreams, and ideas about where we might go for lunch following the service.
As the ceiling fans whirred on, circulating warm air around our tiny church, the congregation stood to sing the concluding song. A few congregants moved to the front of the church, making up the modest choir. I glanced at the program and read that we would be singing “Lean on Me,” by Bill Withers.
The song began soft and low. I made it through the first few lines of the song before my voice cracked. I stopped singing, determined to maintain my poised facade. But like a facial brings the impurities of the skin to the surface, this song seemed to bring the troubles of my soul to the surface. Thoughts of the miscarriages, financial setbacks, career uncertainties, family moves, and personal insecurities all bubbled to the surface and threatened to spill out.
I braced myself, determined to maintain my steely resolve. I would not cry. I would not let myself feel.
I gathered myself and resumed singing, softly and quietly, with my head down and pushed the troubling thoughts from my head. The volume increased as more congregants joined in and the pianist played with increased animation.
… For no one can fill
Those of your needs
That you won’t let show…
I felt the hand of the person next to me wrap around mine. I looked up. Throughout the church, other congregants were clasping hands. I timidly grabbed my husband’s hand and laced my fingers within his.
I looked at the faces around me. I saw the faces of new friends, good friends. Friends who, if it weren’t for our spiritual connection at this tiny church, I would never know. Friends who were facing unbearable struggles – divorce, layoffs, illness, and death. Friends who knew that I wanted more and wanted to be more. Friends who, nonetheless, respected me for the me that I was now.
…Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on…
I felt hands clasped tightly around my own hands, supporting me, lifting me up, and cradling me. As I looked at the people around me, I considered the souls hidden behind the faces and the private struggles we were all enduring.
To hell with my holding it in, I thought. To hell with putting up a brave front. To hell with pretending. I resumed singing, louder now, and let the tears flow freely down my face. I surrendered. And just then, a cool breeze drifted through the window next to me, carrying away the sultry heaviness of heat and sadness – for a few moments at least.
This week I’m linking up with Yeah Write.