He was seated at the front, looking out at the room full of people. The service this warm, September morning was, as usual, having a different effect on each one there. He turned his gaze to the lector. The reading from Deuteronomy was being read earnestly, if flatly. For some it inspired devotion, and their eyes closed serenely as the scriptures were proclaimed. Other eyes closed in serenity, but not so much from a feeling of religious devotion. Many simply stared into someplace distant and to the right of the altar.
His whole family was there, as they were every week. He looked around at their familiar faces, and felt the gentlest tug upwards at the corners of his mouth. It was good to be home.
There was Adam, three rows back, with whom he'd been so close growing up. He had once accidentally clobbered little Adam with a stick, during a game he and his friends called “Swing The Stick”. He smiled at the memory now, but he'd felt pretty awful about it at the time.
Sitting in the second row was cousin Jim. He was once in a gang with Jim. They were known as The Tigers. Membership involved being trained in the correct usage of a sword, which looked very much like a bread knife pilfered from his mother's kitchen. It was a very exclusive gang, having only two members. Jim had carefully instructed him in the art of the deadly weapon, and together they kept the streets of their small town safe from their rival gang, The Jaguars. They played Swing The Stick with The Jaguars from time to time, and it was during one such match that he'd met and subsequently clobbered Adam. (They both cried.)
There was also Ruthie, two years older than him. Once, during a party, they'd fallen in love and secretly been married. For him, “falling in love” meant that Ruthie had declared to him that she was now his best friend, and that they should kiss. They were married immediately, and kissed behind a tree stump. The marriage didn't last long. Ruthie found him to be “too bossy.” She explained to her mother, “He won't do anything I tell him to do!” They divorced quietly later that night.
There was also Aunt Elizabeth. She had always been grandmotherly to him, as she had had a child late in life. She would kneel down, hold his little face in her big, soft hands, and plant a zerbert on his forehead. She always made him laugh, and even now managed a wink from the back pew in which she sat.
There were also the ones to whom he wasn't related, but who were family nonetheless. Ms. Judy had often brought his mother to the edge of her patience, and always seemed to have a terribly important story to tell. It usually involved overcoming great adversity at the store that day, the end result of which had been a substantial discount. Judy had on more than one occasion (and to her supreme satisfaction) actually procured an item at no charge whatsoever. But she was always kind to him, and offered him sweets.
Uncle Dave, who was not his uncle, was the greatest belcher he had ever known. Ever. The sheer volume and fullness of his belches had mystified him as a child, not to mention their frequency. God, he loved that man.
Susan, Dave's wife, was ten minutes late for everything, including the punchline. “Whuddid he say?” and “I don't get it” were her two most oft-repeated phrases. But she put up with Dave, and Dave put up with her, and they had been married for nearly fifty years.
There were, of course, other family members (again, not to be confused with relatives) also in attendance who were not always so endearing. The ones who, if they really knew the real him, would not understand. But he couldn't be too concerned about them, could he.
The lector had finished his tranquilizing reading of Deuteronomy. He took a breath, stood and took his place at the lectionary. With a little rustling, he found the reading for the day. Someone coughed. A fidgety toddler was hushed. He cleared his throat, and began to proclaim the Word.
He read through it with great clarity, with feeling even, until he came to this verse:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,”
And his voice cracked a little.
“because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor,”
And his lip quivered.
“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives..."
He gained some volume.
"...and recovery of sight to the blind,”
He gained momentum.
“to let the oppressed go free! And to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
And he was silent.
He turned, gave the book to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone watched him, waiting for him to say something. Adam. Jim. Ruthie. Even Uncle Dave. Rarely did a reading get quite so... expressive.
Finally, he spoke. “Today,” he said, “This scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Everything was still.
A voice was heard from the back of the room.
“Whuddid he say? I don't get it.”