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February 26, 2024

Hamtramck Walk 11

By Amy Probst

I am standing in an alley in Hamtramck on an early Sunday morning, wishing I had a religion and not a hangover. I don't care anymore about God's insult to my intellect: it's not my brain that needs a home.

My dog is digging what I hope are not vomit remnants from the scraggly grass next to a garage. Church of the Immaculate Conception is straight ahead of me, huge, solid, and foreign-looking. A Virgin Mary eyes me from where she stands at the very top, balancing on a dome. This is a Ukrainian Catholic church, something Iメd never heard of when I moved into my house on the block it shares, five years ago, though I'm Ukrainian. And Catholic.

Sort of.

My mom went to Catholic schools and had six siblings; wore the plaid skirts and shroud of carefully tended guilt. Fell for an improbably devout Agnostic in junior high who refused a church wedding on secular principle when my existence prompted such action senior year (a fact which sent my grandmother to her room for three months of silent devastation). Until my mother became fanatically born-again my twelfth year, there was no religion in my life.

Or so I thought.

My aunt Sue, it turns out, baptized my sister and me in the bathroom sink one day, her efforts an earnest bid to save our heathen souls. More surprising, when my sister sought to marry in the Catholic church two years ago, we learned that this commode consecration counted, provided that the intent had been sincere.

It was.

I'm Catholic.

Who knew?

Suddenly, at 35 years of age, after ridiculing the Church as a fiction-based excuse to keep rule of its masses all my life, it feels kind of good to be one of them. I'm flooded with the anchoring possibility of belonging. To something. Anything.

Morning birds are singing---the day is so fresh, with thin clean air and the feel of running water. Ahead of me, a crisp couple walks up the stairs and through the heavy wooden doors of Immaculate Conception. Probably they are clean and showered, have had bacon and eggs together for breakfast, like they always do before walking the few blocks to church, every Sunday of their lives. I'm still wearing last night's pajama bottoms, and only the dog had breakfast.

They make it look so easy, these neighbors of mine. Ukrainian Catholics of Hamtramck who gliding through life in the rich furrows of tradition and belonging to the ways things have always been done, in their lifetimes and generations before. I am so jealous of these heritage ruts of identity. I envy growing up with rules for living life, a structure to push against or be comforted by, being part of a collective whole.

I'm thinking of joining the church.

Maybe for all the wrong reasons. My dog has her head down a rathole; she is my only immediate family. Hamtramck is home, but my connection to community is missing. I want the little old Ukrainian ladies of Immaculate Conception to smile at me and take me under their wings, bake me golubski when I'm sick and introduce me to their grandsons. I wouldn't mind learning how to grow old from them. Is it so wrong to want faces to smile at once a week?

That whole "you are with me or against me" part of the born-again focus doesn't leave much room for finding God along the way; you're supposed to already be in with both feet. Maybe for me, sharing smiles and sorrows with a congregation that looks like family with thier heavy eyebrows and sharp noses, accumulating years of belonging like warm blankets, would make something happen. Maybe not. But I'm open to an immaculate conception of spirit, should it happen.

Article © Amy Probst. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-02-28
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