Amy Brenneman: Not raised in a church where this was celebrated, I never understood exactly what it was. Now I do. After the bacchanal of Halloween -- the costumes, the exhibitionism, the debauchery of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups -- comes the real day of the dead. The day we remember the dead.
At my church, they celebrate it in high style. Normally All Saints' Pasadena is earth-bound and somewhat casual. Yes, there is Gothic architecture and white robes, but look deeper and it tells a different story -- and that is why I, for one, am there. Many of those robed are gay, and many were married there in the Gothic arches. All Saints' is committed to radical inclusion, and for that, it may be tossed out of the Anglican union sometime in the future. The parishioners are a rainbow coalition of races and ages, the clergy the same. Every aspect of the liturgy has been examined and explored to express this radical inclusion. But All Saints' has retained its right to ritual because there is something in the pageantry of incense, procession, and song that leads the mind away from the mundane.
I sat in the back with Charlotte. We got there late, naturally. We sat with the other motley latecomers as the hymns began. I noticed a man next to Charlotte who didn't seem quite right. On the verge of homeless? Or just unwashed? Don't judge; don't judge, I tell myself. Remember, radical inclusion. Just. Don't sit so close to my daughter.
The procession of clergy and choir goes by us, swinging incense leading the way. As the clergy and assorted friends see Charlotte, they laugh and wave -- breaking the tone of the O-so-serious service. She waves back. She's delighted. Afterwards, homeless man says, "How old is your daughter?"
I tense up. Don't talk about my daughter. "She's 8," I mumble, not looking up from the program.
There is a pause. I look in his direction. His eyes are wet as he looks at Charlotte. "Take care of her," he says. "My daughter was killed at 17 in a car crash. Please, please, make sure your daughter wears a seat belt."
I nod. "Yes, of course," I say. Pause as the choir intones some more. "What was her name?"
"Beth." His eyes are bloodshot. With drink? Exhaustion? Grief? Cuz one thing that's sure -- his daughter was 17 a long time ago. I see the decades telescope -- the guy was a regular guy, a devoted dad, then Beth died and he slipped off the rails. Now he's the village crier, making his rounds on All Saints' Day, remembering the dead, getting an eyeful of living 8-year-old girls.
We invoke the names of the dead. Ed, our rector, invites people to say out loud those who died in the last year. The voices are tiny in the cavernous space, and start out slow. "Carrie." "Lourdes." "Jerome." Then, like a rainstorm, the names come quicker and the church is filled with whispered names. I can't help it. I say, "Beth" in a shy whisper. I look up at the dad to see if he's heard, but he's gone. Long gone.
|Amy Brenneman is an award-winning producer and actress, whose TV credits include "NYPD Blue," "Judging Amy" (which she also created and produced), and currently ABC's "Private Practice." She works with the non-profit groups Healthy Child/Healthy World, The Feminist Majority, and the Cornerstone Theater Company, of which she's a founding member. She is mother to Charlotte and Bodhi and wife to filmmaker Brad Silberling. They live in the San Fernando Valley, the most hip place to be in all of Los Angeles.|