On Palm Sunday he came into church late, reeking of alcohol, like he’d washed his clothes in beer. It was 7:45 a.m. He sat next to me, at the end of the pew. He was wearing jeans, a light jacket, a ballcap.
“Where better to be?” I thought. Of all the places the man might have chosen that Sunday morning, he chose church. That says something.
I wondered if he realized it was Palm Sunday, that we’d be standing for two entire chapters out of one of the Gospels, reading through the entire Passion—from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion. The priest read Jesus’ words, there was a woman who served as Narrator, a man who read the parts for Voice, and we, the crowd, read Crowd. We knelt briefly when Jesus died. Our pew members left the kneeler down, then we bounced back upright to finish Luke’s account.
We never got to sit down. Instead of giving us a break during the homily, the priest launched right into the Nicene Creed. We got through one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, and were well into the Holy Spirit when the man beside me collapsed.
He fell slowly, bending toward me. I reached out to grab his arm and couldn’t hold it. He was dead weight. So I went down with him, tried to break his fall. His ballcap fell on the floor. All I could think of was somehow keeping his head from hitting one of those 110-year-old wooden pews.
He came to when he hit the kneeler.
By then other people had noticed. A gentleman on the other side of me, one of the few men in church wearing a suit, stepped around me and with the help of a large, younger man behind me, lifted the man to a sitting position on the pew. I picked up his ballcap.
“Are you all right, sir?” a woman asked him.
The man looked around, confused. “I have a heart condition,” he said.
He looked at me. I handed him his ballcap. He blinked away one tear.
A group of men and women helped walk him outside, where the air was cool. I can’t remember if they came back inside or not. The rest of the service was a blur. I left as soon as I received Communion.
I never saw the man again.