On the 42nd anniversary of the 1977 blackout, New York City experienced another (albeit much smaller and briefer) blackout last night. It was a strange epoch in an already-unsettling weekend that began, for me, with standing vigil at Foley Square as part of Lights for Liberty, holding up my phone along with nearly three thousand other phones, candles, and flashlights in the shadow of 26 Federal Plaza. Saturday morning found me chasing our friends’ toddler around the Elevated Acre and watched the helicopters and ferries bouncing along the East River with him and his parents; I went home and followed stories of the ICE raids, starting earlier than the projected date of today, on Twitter. That flowed into news of the blackout, and in an apophenic moment, I wondered if one had anything to do with the other.
Heaven? I’m in heaven?
—Prior Walter in Act V of Angels in America: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
We sang Vaughan Williams’s “O how amiable” surrounded by dozens of panels of the AIDS Quilt, we noshed on Keen’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, we contemplated Paul’s cryptic “I heard it from a cousin who told his friend” commentary on “the third heaven,” whatever that is—that is to say, I was back at church for the first time in a month, my longest stretch without church proper in years, and it was as good and jarring of a homecoming as I could have wanted.
I had actually been in the courts of the Lord already the previous evening for Quilt: A Musical Celebration,Judsonite Mark Perry’s benefit show for the Callen-Lorde Health Center and Frontline AIDS. Mark had arranged for a sizable showing of the quilt itself, which I’d never seen in person. I texted a picture of Freddie Mercury’s panel to MaryBeth; I shuddered with a sort of bilious grief at Roy Cohn’s, emblazoned with the legend “BULLY-COWARD-VICTIM.” But the panel I won’t be able to forget is the very first one that was made, Marvin Feldman’s, by Cleve Jones, who conceived the quilt and the NAMES Project. In the panel, Johnson is slight and serious, with round glasses and a moustache; he is surrounded by a Keith Haring-esque corona of bold dashed gray lines; and he holds a small gray tabby cat.
It might surprise you to learn that I don’t always want to come to church. I frequently, even usually, get myself to church more or less of my own accord, and once I’m there, snickering with Jessica while we mark up the scores during choir practice or serving snacks during Coffee Hour or, well, taking notes on the sermon, I’ve long forgotten my reluctance to peel myself out of bed. But today I woke up with a headache, and the thought of staying in bed, complete with the cat perched on my chest, was terribly tempting. The only thing that got me moving was remembering that it was New Member Sunday. I’ve been involved in the process of inviting the nine wonderful folks who officially joined Judson today through my work on the Membership Committee, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be with them as they, to borrow Lyla’s words, made their relationships with and accountability to Judson official. So I took a quick shower, popped a few Advil, poured my coffee in my travel mug, and headed out.
With Easter coming so late this year, Holy Thursday falls well after the return to Daylight Savings Time, and so the service tonight began in sunlight, with birdsong outside the door that opens onto the small courtyard where the infamous palm-burnings have transpired. You could hear them singing as Sean played the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite in D Minor. His playing is emotive and intimate—I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing him playing Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel last year—and the trilling birds over it began Holy Thursday with a layer of irony: the innocence of the smaller creatures of God not unlike that of the disciples who can’t begin to imagine what’s about to happen next as they eat the Passover meal with Jesus, who certainly can. John, leaning on Jesus’s bosom; Peter, ruining the moment—they know something is off, but they can’t predict just how bad things will get.