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Evensong

Evensong

Cynthia Zarin remembers 9-11 with this essay in the New York Times:

THE Thursday before, I received a telephone call from the children’s school. There was a new family coming to the school. Their elder child, a boy, would be in my children’s grade. That year they were 9. They were in fourth grade. The school they went to then was on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, a few blocks south from where we lived, in Morningside Heights.

To get to school we cut through the north yard of the cathedral. At that time the back lot was a mess. Weeds grew helter-skelter through the broken asphalt. The blacktop was littered with stone carvings of angels and griffins; a stonecutter’s workshop opened onto the back lot. It was managed by a man called Simon, who wore his hair in gray corkscrew curls. He was continually covered with marble dust and had a fine face that verged on beauty and looked like an angel who had fallen to earth.

Every morning we walked by the stone yard, then cut through the cathedral by the north transept door. Our neighbor also took her child to school. She had a little dog, and the dog crossed the apse with us. Later, that door was locked, and dogs were no longer allowed inside at 8 a.m., but then we had the freedom of the place. There were peacocks on the grounds and at that hour they were often screaming.

That was the first year that the children sang in the cathedral choir. Three afternoons a week they practiced in a room with casement windows in the south wing of the cathedral, which had once been a lunatic asylum. On Sundays they sang at 11 o’clock Mass. Sometimes they also sang at Evensong. They wore crimson robes and white collars, which were starched. Later, they would hate everything about choir — the long rehearsals, the too-hot robes — and they wrote us long letters arguing their position, which they read aloud to us at the kitchen table. But that was later.

On that Thursday we had been back four days. The telephone rang just as we were walking in the door, and when I picked up the phone I was admonishing the children. I did not want water in the hall. I had left a fan on in the kitchen and the mail had blown down onto the floor, and the children were stepping on it with their feet wet from the sprinklers. The voice on the other end of the telephone was known to me: it was the receptionist at the school, who was already at her desk. She told me about the new family between pauses while I tried to get the children to pick up the mail, and to get the wet jellies off the baby, who was 2. She gave me their telephone number, and said, “Promise you’ll call.” I promised. The idea was that before school opened those children would have met my children, and the mother, who the receptionist said seemed shy and whose husband worked long hours, would have met me.

Read it all here.

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