The Bug

Time has passed, and I think I can talk about the bug now. It was Holy Week, 2010, at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles, N.Y. I sang in the choir. The choir sat in the front of the church, a few steps above the congregation and a step below the altar. Which is to say, we were very visible, so it was best that we behaved ourselves. Especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the two most solemn days in Christianity. Christ on the eve of his execution, and Christ beaten, mocked, humiliated, then nailed to a cross between two thieves. Dark times.

And when the scripture was read describing these events, the lights were dimmed until the church was as dark as those nights, and we were all still.

It was into this dark and stillness that the bug walked, out of the wall and into the darkened sanctuary. You might ask, “How could you see the bug if it was dark?” I’ll tell you how: This was a big bug. Our church was built in 1873, and I have no doubt that he entered the walls during its construction, and had been living at St. James’ ever since, growing stout on a diet of God knows what. I’ve seen smaller mice. He had long, spindly legs, knees moving like scissors, and antennae that could have picked up the BBC World Service if he was interested in news from across the Atlantic.

He walked, in a business-like fashion, across the tile floor as if this was his route every evening. The basses seated at the altar-end of their row were the first to see him, as he emerged from the shadows; then the tenors, sopranos and altos. Under normal circumstances, such an appearance might occasion exclamations like “Holy Cow!” and “My goodness, what might that be?!” Some brave soul, giving no thought to his or her shoe, might have sprung up to squash the thing.

But we were in church, in the front of the church, in white robes with black stoles, on the most Holy and somber day of the Christian calendar listening to scripture recounting Christ’s agony. All holding still just like Mom and Dad took great pains (usually our own) to teach us. And the bug kept walking. Phrases like “crushing mandible” and “venom with no antidote” flashed across our minds as we charted his progress.

For a time, the bug kept to a straight line, crossing the open portion of the floor between the facing rows of choristers, but then he took a slow left and disappeared behind the row of wide-eyed altos. I looked across at our choir director, who alone among us seemed unaware of the bug, and I thought that if the bug went up his trouser leg, we were going to hear something.

But the bug did not go up his trouser leg. After a minute or two of high suspense, he reappeared, having done no damage. Our relief, however, was short-lived. He was coming back our way. Across the floor. Perhaps mumbling or humming a bug tune in a register too high for our ears, still acting as though he was all alone, making his accustomed rounds.

I did not want to be the one to startle him, and watched with fascination as my feet, apparently acting on their own, moved slowly to the left, away from the bug. He passed within a foot of my chair leg and back into the darkness. Turning in for the night.

When my respiration returned to normal, I picked up the thread of the service, noting that I had missed a significant portion during the bug’s tour. But, unharmed, I grew calm and came to feel better about the bug. This was, after all, a house he shared with God, and he’d clearly lived in it much, much longer than I had.

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