Ordinary Resurrections

Children in the years of hope

Jonathan Kozol’s books have become touchstones of the American conscience. In Ordinary Resurrections, he spends four years in the South Bronx with children who have become his friends at a badly underfunded but enlightened public school. A fascinating narrative of daily urban life, Ordinary Resurrections gives a human face to poverty and racial isolation, and provides a stirring testimony to the courage and resilience of the young. Sometimes playful, sometimes jubilantly funny, and sometimes profoundly sad, these are sensitive children—complex and morally insightful—and their ethical vitality denounces and subverts the racially charged labels that the world of grown-up expertise too frequently assigns to them.

Yet another classic case of unblinking social observation from one of the finest writers ever to work in the genre, this is a piercing discernment of right and wrong, of hope and despair—from our nation’s corridors of power to its poorest city streets.

Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children’s Defense Fund
Ordinary Resurrections is a deeply moving and marvelous book. Jonathan Kozol has shared poetic and powerful stories of the poor children of Mott Haven who became a part of his life. I pray the truth and poignancy Kozol portrays here will move you to stand up for them with your votes and your voices.”

New York Times Book Review
“Deeply moving. This is the most personal of Kozol’s efforts.”

Washington Post Book World
“Warm and affectionate portraits. . . . Kozol has written an eloquent love letter to a set of children. . . . whom he has grown to know, cherish, and delight in. Deeply moving and beautifully written.”

Mario Cuomo
“I think God finds consolation in the tiny triumphs over daily oppressions by the least noticed of us, in the plainest places. So too does Jonathan Kozol, a great man who has written another great book that is all compassion, conviction, and encouragement.”

Fred Rogers, creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
“What a gift! A magnificent testimony to the communion of grace through the human touch.”

Library Journal
“Kozol’s authenticity has not diminished with time, nor has his power to put a human face on Northern urban segregation.”

Booklist (starred)
“Kozol retains his anger and contempt at the city’s neglect of his small friends, but he takes a moment here to marvel at their silliness and sorrows, gentleness and bravery.”

Publishers Weekly
“A persistent voice of conscience. . . His sensitive profiles highlight these kids’ resilience, quiet tenacity, eagerness to learn, and high spirits, as well as the teachers’ remarkable dedication.”

Henry Mayer, author of All on Fire
“By demonstrating the resilience of children in a meditative and measured voice, Kozol quietly intensified the indictment he has made in previous books of the inequalities that jeopardize the growth of children in our poorest neighborhoods. Ordinary Resurrections is a human work of the spirit that holds up a candle in a dark time.”

Frederick Buechner, author of The Eyes of the Heart
“Acutely observed, utterly unsentimental . . . and heartbreakingly beautiful.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
“What a wonderful book! I have devoured it—replete with the laughter, tears, and wise insights that all of Jonathan’s books produce . . . I cannot tell you how moved and touched I was.”

Chapter 19

A Pastor’s Ministry

Why is it that some children seem to be so strong and full of energy and hopefulness about their lives and manage to do well in school despite the most discouraging conditions in their neighborhood while other children facing the same obstacles appear unable to prevail?

For people who write on education, as I do, there is a premium on coming up with neatly packaged answers to this question; but the actual answers, as we generally concede to one another when we’re not advancing a particular agenda, tend to be as unpredictable, and various, as life itself, and character, and chance, and personality.

For some of the kids I know whose parents have led troubled lives, the greatest source of moral strength may lie in a grandmother, though the problems that the children face as they become teenagers often overwhelm even the strongest of grandmothers. In other cases, it may be a deep religious faith that keeps a child in a positive and optimistic frame of mind. In still others, it’s a potent sense of humor that enables children to turn sorrows into smiles. Many times, it’s simply pure good luck in running into an extraordinary teacher, doctor, minister, or priest. If I had to narrow it to one, I’d likely point to the religious factor; but that is probably because I have been spending so much time with children at the church and so I see that little light glowing particularly brightly.

There’s a student at the afterschool, named Leonardo, who asks frequently if he can talk with me alone in the computer room. He often has a glum look on his face. He gets depressed about the situation in his home, which isn’t good. His mother is in Honduras, and the relatives he lives with aren’t affectionate to him. He wears a dreary-looking U.S. Army jacket every day to school. It’s like his “uniform,” the badge of his perpetual depression.

On Sundays, though, he stands beside the pastor at the altar as one of her acolytes. On that day he gets to wear the wonderful white robe and ties the rope around his waist and looks resplendent there beside Pineapple and Briana and the other kids who also serve as acolytes. Sometimes he hands the wine to Mother Martha in the moments just before communion. Other days, he carries the censer or the cross. He waves to friends when he thinks Mother Martha isn’t looking. It’s the only time that I can think of when he seems entirely happy.

“The bread is good!” he told me once last year when he had noticed that I didn’t take communion. “It’s good!” he kept repeating, as if it were not a tasteless wafer but a slice of buttered pumpernickel. “Try it!” he said. “You’ll like it!”

Leonardo, like the other children, knows that I am Jewish, so I asked if he was trying to convert me through my appetite. He said no but kept on coaxing me for several days whenever he ran into me downstairs.

“The bread is good!” he’d say with teasing laughter in his eyes. He sounded like a salesman for communion—or a bakery.

“Try it! You’ll like it!” he would say without the need to let the other children know exactly what this was referring to. The fact that there was now a private joke between us seemed to be the thing that made this fun for him.

He didn’t take communion lightly, though. I can’t think of any children at the church who do. Even the teenage boys who slip into the church after the service has begun and slouch in one of the back rows, with base- ball hats still on their heads, as if this were a boring duty or a sullen favor for their mother, don’t look sullen in the least when they kneel down to take the wafer on their tongue at the communion rail. All of the teenagers do not pray; but when they do most of them seem to pray devoutly.

Prayer, of course, is a pervasive part of life among the children at St. Ann’s and isn’t limited to services that take place at specific times and are mandated by church calendars. Many services take place unplanned when children wander up into the pastor’s office at a time when they’re upset and simply ask if they can pray with her. These services are held most often in the smaller chapel that is also used for tutoring on crowded afternoons. Vespers, which are quiet early-evening services, are held there too.

The pastor holds two services and gives two sermons Sunday morning, one in English, one in Spanish. She stays up late on Saturdays to write her sermons, which are crafted carefully, but not ornate, and seldom driven by exaggerated rhythms of rhetorical momentum. There are even silences at times, not big ones—hesitations really—when she’s talking to the congregation. I don’t know if they’re intentional; and, if I asked, I think that she’d deny this. But they do have an effect. They seem to open up some “space.” That’s just about the only way I can describe it.

I know nothing of theology; but it occurs to me that modest hesitations—normal ones, like those in ordinary conversations—may allow a bit more space than a relentless speaking style does for people in a congregation who may feel the world has tried to clip their wings and that the powers and the principalities of their society might actually prefer it if they didn’t fly too high.

This idea of leaving, or permitting, open spaces that another person, who has never been to college or to seminary, has an opportunity to fill is not something that the priest has ever spoken of. If I actually did question her, I’m sure she’d tell me not to read so deeply into random hesitations on a morning when she’s simply tired or distracted. Still, I think it does reflect an aspect of her personality and represents, even unconsciously, an element of pedagogic style that may have an unexpectedly empowering effect. Whether on a weekday morning in a fourth-grade classroom or on Sunday in the sanctuary of a church, I think that passages of normal hesitation and, at times, a searching pause that speaks of a respect for silence can accomplish things that flashier and more inexorable performances cannot.

Thomas Merton said once of the contemplative life that it should offer those who enter it “an area, a space of liberty, of silence,” in which “possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices . . . become manifest”—a space in time, he said, “which can enjoy its own potentialities and hopes.” Silences, however, in monastic life or any other area of life, need not be abdications. In her sermons at St. Ann’s, the pastor’s words, though often stated softly, can be charged with adversarial intensity. When she speaks of the endemic inequalities of education, healthcare, recreation, and aesthetics in New York, she doesn’t simply say, for instance, that rich people “have advantages.” She words it with a sharper specificity. She says, “They take advantages,” refusing to accept the too convenient notion of injustice as an accidental consequence of unintended processes—“the way things are”—but making clear that these injustices, at least, are consequences of decisions people make to benefit themselves at the expense of others.

New York City has for decades shipped some of its ugliest and smelliest waste products to be burned, recycled, transferred, or just piled up and stored in the South Bronx, and Mother Martha is convinced, as are so many doctors, that this is a direct cause of the respiratory illnesses of people of all ages at St. Ann’s. The city also sends much of its sewage to West Harlem to be processed at a plant that brought the stench of excrement into the homes of thousands of black and Hispanic families in the area for several years. Mother Martha never speaks of this the way the mainstream press tends to describe it as a mostly technical dilemma that might prove at worst to be “misguided” or “unsound.” She speaks of it as social and environmental theft, as she did recently in an unsparing sermon titled “Stealing Air.”

The idea of unauthored evil, of inert and agentless injustice where advantages and disadvantages are doled out more or less by chance (clean air and charming neighborhoods with nice boutiques and outdoor restaurants on one side of the city, children wheezing from their asthma, waking up each day to odors of incinerators and of burning trash and plastics on the other side), may be appeasing, and is certainly exonerating, to the powerful. The pastor does not swallow this mythology.

When the press rejoices, for example, in the “cleanup” of Times Square—a reference to the banishment of beggars and the homeless and the prostitutes and sex shops that were once familiar there—she notes how many of the homeless people banished from Manhattan have been moved to shelters or substandard housing in Mott Haven and how many wait in line at the food pantry at St. Ann’s, which has run out of food for the first time in 1998 and 1999 as more and more of those who have been hidden from the sight of tourists end up in this neighborhood.

The privileged, as she observes, are not the passive beneficiaries of these policies and plans. “These actions are not agentless. They’re planned, devised, and engineered by those who also have the means to win the acquiescence of the poor by holding out rewards for not complaining.”

The suppression of this kind of language and the substitution of a terminology of falsified consensus are a part of what some of my journalistic friends in New York City call “civility.” Mother Martha calls it “suffocation” and “the false peace” of the privileged. One seldom sees those kinds of words in the newspapers, as one selfdom sees a word such as “injustice” or “oppression” or, as Mother Martha notes, “an unambiguous, plain-spoken word like ‘segregation’ ”—not, at least, in reference to New York—unless these words are placed within quotation marks in order to suggest that language of this sort is unacceptable.

“Rome’s peace is not God’s peace,” as she stated it one Sunday morning—bravely, I believe, because her reference was to institutions of the press that many people with so little power might not wish to challenge so directly. “False prophets cry ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace,” she continued, or where “there’s a false peace” that has been established as “a cover-up intimidation of the poor.” Jesus, she said, came to earth “in order to disturb the false peace of the Romans and to free God’s people once and evermore.”

I asked her once why she said “evermore,” because the “false peace” she had spoken of seems constantly— indeed, hypnotically—to be restored. “The struggle goes on,” she said, sounding more like a Black Panther, or one of the radical Young Lords for whom she used to do pro bono work, than like the woman she once was who rode her bike through Harvard Square en route to class among her fellow-students at the university, where legacies of opportunity are handed down routinely from one generation to the next.

How are the social loyalties of someone who was treated well by our society when she was young so radically transformed? The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whom I came to know in 1969 when he was living temporarily in Cambridge and I used to bring some of my students to his home on Sunday afternoons, would sometimes speak of people “dying from their class” to be reborn with a new loyalty to other social classes that they may have scorned, ignored, or even viewed as humanly dismissable before. “To break the ties, to step away from all the benefits our birth afforded us, to see the world in a new way and take our vision not from books about the poor but from the poor themselves,” he told me once with a great smile in his eyes, old socialist and Christian and sweet person that he was, “this is their Easter!”

I don’t know what prompts a woman born to privilege and polished to sophistication in the finest schools and given rapid access to considerable opportunities for wealth and status by her competence in law, to give it up, already in the middle of her life, and choose instead to be ordained a priest and then accept a vicarage at an impoverished church. I do know there’s no maudlin piety or philanthropic sacramentalism in her style. The pastor is, thank God, more fun to be with, and more humanly transparent, and a great deal more defiant of established power, than a number of the philanthropic ones who end up in church windows.

Above all, she does not pretend to be what she is not. An educated woman in a neighborhood where education levels are extremely low, she never pretends not to possess the tactical and verbal and forensic competence she really has. Ever since the 1960s, I have known white people who were so determined to conceal their educational attainments in the presence of a poor community of color that they’d even undermine their syntax and adopt street phrases, or would shade their phrasings with Latino accents, in an effort to defend themselves against those ever-present local demagogues who might attack them otherwise for their skin color or their education.

I am very much aware, uncomfortably so, that I fell into this peculiar habit too, because good friends in Roxbury at last gave me a talking-to. “We don’t want you with arms tied behind your back,” a very kind and candid local leader named Paul Parks told me one day when we were coming from a meeting. “That doesn’t equalize the game. We know your education. Use it for our children!”

Perhaps, like other young white activists, I had the strange idea that I could circumvent racism if I hid or manacled my actual effectiveness in areas in which I did have skills, because I felt I had attained them in an unjust social order. To leaders in the black community, however, this was, in itself, a racist exercise—and an unhealthy one.

Mother Martha doesn’t waste her time with rituals like these. Her sermons, as I’ve said, do often leave a pause of hesitation, and they’re usually understated, and they’re worded plainly (half the congregation on most Sundays are young children, so plain language is good pedagogy too); but in the actions that she takes, and in the confrontations she does not avoid, she draws on every bit of knowledge that she has, including what she knows about the ways in which a meritocracy of money can perpetuate itself.

Eleanor had some knowledge of these things from secondhand familiarity. The pastor knows about these things—the “test preps,” the small classes around maple tables, and the playing fields, and the expensive science labs, and the exquisite elm trees at the private prep schools—from her own experience and that of her brother and her father; and she compares this constantly, sometimes explosively, with what is given to the children of Mott Haven.

This “dual vision,” as I would describe it, adds a layer of political and moral texture to the way she analyzes certain of the challenges faced by the children of St. Ann’s; but it also adds a constant sense of tension between struggling for piecemeal victories on one hand and envisioning a larger and more sweeping challenge to the structures of injustice on the other.

As unprotected as she seems when she speaks from her heart about these issues of class privilege, the pastor is not frail. “Mother Martha,” says the poet and historian Juan Castro, who lives very near the church, on St. Ann’s Avenue, and knows the pastor well, “is tougher than any six men that I know,” a statement that I know he means admiringly, although a hint of chauvinism in his choice of words has now and then led to a verbal fray between the two of them. Others, including powerful black leaders like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has visited St. Ann’s and knows the priest, have voiced a similar reaction.

Religious activists from other cities who have met the priest have made allusions to Dorothy Day when speaking of her fearlessness and willingness to take the blows and not do too much dodging and evading. She pays a price for this, however. Some years ago she did some legal research and discovered that the CEO of one of the prestigious TV networks was a partner and investor in the company that owned the shamefully neglected buildings in which dozens of the St. Ann’s children were residing. “I want you to come to the neighborhood and see the way your tenants live,” she said when she was able to get through to him. He indicated that he’d like to come someday but could not do it then because, he said, “My chauffeur’s on vacation.” Clearly, you do not endear yourself to someone with enormous wealth and, in this instance, with the power of retaliation when you try to make him see some of the suffering from which he’s managed to obtain a valuable tax-shelter.

Some ministers are forced by indigence to be accomplished courtiers. They learn to navigate between two worlds, excoriating money-changers in their sermons Sunday morning and then having lunch with them perhaps on Tuesday to obtain a badly needed contribution. Some establish what are known as “partnerships” with business leaders or with business corporations and essentially go into business with them as developers of real estate or in related local projects of this sort. Pastors of the poor are frequently accorded more esteem by the newspapers for commercial victories than for the work of justice or the mystery of faith. The Church Entrepreneurial gets more attention often than the church as church—the “little church,” the ti-église, as it is said in Haiti—where a man like Lazarus and one like Francis might have prayed together.

Pastors drawn into the world of commerce often bring real benefits to their communities, but pay a price for these entanglements that others do not see. Still, it’s hard to know if any person in religious life who’s not a contemplative can accomplish anything of value that does not involve some contradictions, especially in searching for financial help; and even contemplatives and the abbots of the monasteries, as we know from Merton’s journals, have been caught up in these contradictions also.

I think the presence of so many children at St. Ann’s, so many daily crises, and the whole rich stew of life, emergency, activity, and hecticness compel the priest to improvise in ways that lend an almost comic pragmatism to her intermittent efforts to solicit charitable help. She doesn’t have much chance to go downtown for personal solicitations; she writes some letters but they often sound as if they were done quickly, which I’m sure they generally were. The few requests for charitable grants she’s let me see were rather brisk, and even somewhat amateurish, and did not have any of the customary breakdowns (like “objectives” and “evaluations”) and those never-quite-convincing mathematical projections that are part of many grant proposals.

“I didn’t have time for that,” she told me last year in September when she had to race down to Manhattan late one night to get a letter stamped and canceled just in time to meet the deadline on an application. Her teenage secretary had just left (she was about to have her baby) and there were a number of emergencies that week. The time that might have gone into the writing of a detailed application got consumed by ordinary things like helping children with their homework, finding somebody to take her secretary’s place, visiting a child’s mother in the hospital, and going with Katrice to Western Beef, a local grocery, to buy necessities for the soup kitchen as the growing lines of hungry people at the church outran the limited supplies of food that came from charity.

The church gets by. Some unrepentant liberals and others acting on religious principle make generous donations to the children’s programs and do not expect her to waste time with the formalities. Some of them know the kids and know the nature of her life and think her time is better spent in doing more important things, like helping Elio with his arithmetic.

 

What is it like, in human terms, to be the one on whom so many other people in a neighborhood rely at times of fear and darkness in their lives?

Visitors arriving at St. Ann’s for the first time are generally stirred by the emotional aesthetic of the atmosphere and often comment also on the nerve with which the pastor faces down the children’s adversaries. They do not always see, as I did not see at the start—because I was perhaps afraid to see—the weariness and loneliness and times of deep anxiety, which even pastors who seem poised and decorous in their ecclesiastical accoutrements when standing there before the cross to celebrate the mass inevitably undergo at times when they feel overburdened and unequal to the obligations they must bear.

We know that people in despair cry to the priest. To whom does the priest cry? I suppose the proper answer ought to be “to God.” But priests and ministers need human shoulders too. The pastor spends a lot of time with children in the garden to dispel their worries and her own, and also, as I often feel, because a sense of understandable enchantment with the personalities of children is an elemental part of her own personality. “Those kids will look for her!” Katrice said once when we were watching Mother Martha on the sidewalk with a bunch of children who were tugging at her clothes to capture her attention. “If she’s not here, they’ll keep on coming back all day and asking me, ‘Katrice? Did you see Mother Martha?’ ”

Still, the priest cannot permit the little ones to know her deepest fears. She has a son, a teenage boy whom she took in when he was twelve in answer to his mother’s final prayer before she died of cancer. His father is an alcoholic. His brother and sister have been intermittently in various drug programs and in prison for the past ten years. The pastor often finds his brother lying on the sidewalk near Alí’s when she goes there to get a cup of coffee in the afternoon. She waits until an ambulance arrives to take him to the hospital, where he remains only a day or two before he wanders off into whatever places offer him the medication of despair—cocaine or heroin or alcohol—and ultimately reappears outside Alí’s.

A store not far from where he frequently collapses is believed to be a front for sale of drugs. Across the street, but farther up the block, there is another store in which Katrice suspects that drugs are sold as well. I’ve been in that store a few times with Isaiah. There’s little for sale, and there are never many customers during the day; so it seems probable Katrice is right. The priest knows all of this but cannot fight on six or seven fronts at once. She has to make the surgical decision to address one crisis now, the other one tomorrow. By tomorrow, there are always several more.

One day when she and I were walking with Katrice on St. Ann’s Avenue to buy some minor items needed at the church, a woman who was standing not quite on the street and not quite on the curb, but poised in what appeared to be a temporary indecision or confusion in between, gestured to the priest as we drew near. There was a child with her, maybe eight or nine years old. The woman and the pastor hugged each other and the woman kissed the priest, but looked disturbed, as if she’d just received upsetting news, so Mother Martha asked her whether there was something wrong. The woman lifted one hand in the air in front of her and held it level with the street and tilted it just slightly up and down.

“Not so good now, Mother,” she said in a worried voice.

The priest looked at Katrice. Her quick reaction was to take my arm and nudge me off in the direction we were heading so that Mother Martha and the woman and her son could be alone to talk. Something of that nature happens almost every time we go out for a walk.

What does she say—what counsel is she giving, if that’s even the right word—when troubled-looking people stop her in the street, then show up later for a conversation with her at the church?

“She never gives me bullshit answers, ‘priestly’ answers,” says one of the toughest guys I know in the South Bronx, who’s had a lot of problems in the courts and has been in and out of jail. He talks to her, he says, “exactly the same way I’d talk to any man. No difference. No sweet ‘nicey’ stuff about atonement and forgiveness. I go to see her when my ass is scared. She’s tough with me. She can be very hard. I don’t mind toughness. When I need her, when I’m in real trouble, I know one thing: She’ll be there.”

I happened to run into him one night when six or seven officers had slammed him up against the wall. When I asked him what was wrong, one of the officers slammed me against the wall as well and told me to move on. “Call Mother Martha! Please!” he yelled as he was being shoved into the back of one of the patrol cars at the curb. Did she get him out? I never learned. By the next day there were new emergencies she had to deal with. So I never even had a chance to ask.

I have the impression that most priests and ministers in neighborhoods like this one spend a large part of their lives engaged in doing things for which they couldn’t possibly have been prepared by any part of their religious education. (Do seminaries teach a pastor what she’ll need to know to start a literacy class or choose computer software for a mathematics class, or how to get a judge to put a child’s parent into a drug-treatment program rather than in prison?) I also know that many pastors have to make a lot of difficult decisions that will change the lives of other people without ever having time to contemplate a wide array of options. Deferred decision-making is the privilege of those who look at social struggle with a relative degree of distance. At places like St. Ann’s, there is no distance. Everything is present. Almost everything is urgent. The risks of making wrong decisions are one burden that the priest must constantly incur; but the luxury of making no decision, or deferring a decision, is not often hers.

There are all kinds of heroines and heroes in the ordinary world. The ones I like to spend my time with are the preachers and the teachers who take on the hardest, messiest, and most exhausting work and still come out of it somehow with souls intact and particles of merriment still percolating in their personalities. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t have an idea in the world of where they find the sources of their energy and joy. I used to ask the pastor questions like this; I don’t ask these questions anymore. I stand there in the church on certain days and watch her at her work and simply feel a sense of awe and admiration that she ever dared to take a job like this, and doesn’t plan to give it up, but muddles through the worst of times, and keeps right on.

“The people I love the best,” writes poet and longtime activist Marge Piercy, “jump into work head first.” Instead of “dallying in the shallows,” they “swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.” When it’s time to plow, they “harness themselves” and “strain in the mud and muck to move things forward” and to “do what has to be done, again and again.” When emergencies come, they “work in a row and pass the bags along.” They “stand in the line and . . . haul in their places.” They “are not parlor generals and field deserters.” The work of the world, she says, “is common as mud.” When it’s botched, it “smears the hands” and “crumbles to dust.” Beautiful vases, after centuries go by, are “put in museums,” she writes, “but you know they were made to be used. . . .

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I’ve thought of that final line when I was with a teacher in one of those very poorly funded schools like Morris High that get the students other schools reject and have the worst statistics in the city, but the teacher still was standing there with a big stack of papers in her hand and a real rush of energy within her voice as she spurred on the kids to finish Act Three of Macbeth, or do their book report on Toni Morrison, and did it with the same enthusiasm she would feel if she were teaching far more skillful and responsive kids at Exeter.
I’ve thought of it also at St. Ann’s on one of those heartbreaking days when several of the children or the older people had to deal with devastating news or make decisions in which either choice was going to be fraught with danger to themselves or someone else, and I could see the empathy and anguish—and the deep-down weariness as well—within the pastor’s eyes, and had to wonder if I was about to see her cry.

I’ve seen the priest cry only twice at St. Ann’s Church. Once was when a teenage boy who had been close to her for years said something cutting and sarcastic at a time of adolescent anguish, testing out his strength perhaps to see if he could injure somebody who loved him and discovering, to his regret, that he could do it with great ease.

The other time was when she came into the crowded afterschool one day holding a cup of hot tea she had brought back from Alí’s. She’d buried a parishioner that morning and then had to go to the cathedral for some reason, and her face was flushed, because she had been working with a fever for the past three days. Her hands were shaking slightly as she tried to pull the plastic cover from the cup. Then the lid went flying and the cup turned upside down and spilled its scalding contents on her hand and arm.

Katrice ran to the kitchen to get ice to press against the skin. Some of the children were nearby. They stood and stared. Mother Martha bit her lip. Then she began to cry.

What I remember is the look within the children’s eyes: immediate compassion, but also unspeakable alarm to see tears in the pastor’s eyes.

“She’s crying,” said Briana.

“Mother Martha’s crying,” said one of the older girls.

I know it frightened them.

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