[Note: this is the first in a three-part sequence.]
I’m really glad Pope Francis is bringing this to the fore. The Catholic Church has been dismissive of environmental issues in the past, and he’s rightly relating them to social issues … My experience is that those things trickle down, like there’ll be a reading at a church service to try to rouse people up to some sort of action. You’d do that for the Bishop’s Relief Fund–you’d raise money for the poor [sic] that way. And climate change is definitely a social issue–it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. And we keep on going ahead as if it doesn’t matter.
Two days later, as on every Tuesday and Friday, K went to visit her mother, who lived in an apartment complex for the elderly in East Providence. On Mondays and Thursdays, Violet the home health aide came to help K’s mother take a shower and get settled for the day; on Tuesdays and Fridays, K helped her mother bathe and dress, and took her out to lunch, usually in her wheelchair unless she was having an unusually pain-free day. K’s sister came on Wednesdays and weekends, and went to church with their mother, but didn’t usually stay for the whole day. As they walked and wheeled down the sidewalk to the diner, K asked: Mom, what do you and Sandy like about church?
K was never sure if her mother’s speech had gotten clearer again since the stroke, or if she’d just gotten better at listening to her. I don’t know that liking comes into it, K’s mother said. I guess I like knowing that I’m doing the right thing to do.
And you know it’s the right thing because the priests tell you, K said.
Don’t start that again.
Do you ever tell the priests what’s the right thing to do? K asked. Has that ever happened?
It’s probably happened, her mother said. I don’t know if it worked. She turned toward her left side, her good side, and caught K’s eye. Come with us on Sunday and see. So on Sunday, communicants’ heads–many of them gray or bald or both–turned unabashedly toward the three women, two walking one wheeling toward a pew. Mom, K said at the diner after the service, I don’t think I can tell these people to tell their priest to tell their bishop anything.
Sandy snorted. Because K always knows what’s the best for everybody, she said.
Girls, their mother said. Then she reached out with her good hand and patted K as if forty years had disappeared. Sandy’s right, sweetheart. You’d have to keep coming. Get to know everybody, get them to know you. But also, don’t think just because we’re old you can’t suggest anything to us once you know us. You don’t know what we’ve already dealt with and done.
This is just a ploy to get me to come to church, isn’t it? K said. The other two smiled at each other, thin lizard smiles.
Months later, on a dispiritingly warm and muggy day in early November, a circle of people using wheelchairs, walkers and canes–not including K and Sandy’s mother, who had had another stroke–formed around the construction equipment for the Spectra Energy pipeline. Their priest, sweating in his high collar, nodded coolly at the Unitarian Universalist minister who was there with her congregation. Their children and grandchildren were busy insulating people’s houses and installing pellet stoves on the diocese’s dime before the winter came, so that the pipeline gas would be less necessary, or planning a conference with priests and bishops in big farming states about how to approach their flocks.
K wasn’t there; she was helping one of the few young families in the congregation get disentangled from a predatory lender. Sandy wasn’t there; it was Wednesday, so she was with their mother.