According to Wikipedia: “Vespers is the sunset evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes from the Greek ἑσπέρα and the Latin vesper, meaning “evening.” It is also referred to in the Anglican tradition as Evening Prayer or Evensong. The term is also used in some Protestant denominations (such as the Presbyterian Church or Seventh-day Adventist Church) to describe evening services.”
So, in January 1980, my step-mom joined my dad in Washington D.C. so that he could defend his controversial theological views before a meeting of the Seventh-Day Adventist elite in August.
I stayed behind at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley with friends. I tasted a freedom I’d never experienced before. For one thing, my parents couldn’t read my diary any more now that I wasn’t living with them. Soon after I reunited with them that summer of 1980, I abandoned writing personal stuff that they could possibly find for the next ten years. It’s a sharp pain that I had to give up such solace in my confusing youth. I wish I had journals from my youth I could leaf through now. Until I got away from my home in July of 1993, I had to be careful with confiding my true thoughts and feelings. Many of the people around me could not be trusted.
My family came to Pacific Union College from Avondale College in Australia in May of 1977. I was 11. Before my classmates got to know me, they were friendly. Then after they got singed by my hateful words and actions, they backed off. I wasn’t the biggest loser in my grade. I was about average. I had moved around the world, but quickly found myself in the same place in the social pecking order.
My classmate Andy Muth in December of 1979 was forced by his mother to invite me home for Sabbath lunch and it was the greatest lunch of my life. The Muth family was so cool. I could talk about everything and it wasn’t used against me. You’ve heard of the movie The Blind Side? That’s my story. The Muths adopted me, so to speak, and I became a part of the family, a bit like Brideshead Revisited but without the dark side.
Unfortunately, I could not stay with the Muths for my last six months of eighth grade because my parents had already promised me to someone else, but I did become close with Andy and his whole family. They probably did more than anyone outside of my own family to civilize me.
One Friday night, I went to the Vespers service at the Pacific Union College church. I walked in the back. The service was already going on. I stood there and looked around and felt awkward and alone, my two most familiar feelings.
Then down the stairs came a vision in white — the beautiful Denise Bernard, the classmate I had a crush on. She wore a long dress. She invited me up to the balcony where several of my classmates sat. It was awesome. I was part of the group.
We sat in the back and talked all through the services. Christian services are very different from Jewish ones. They’re much more reverent and transcended. Christians don’t talk in church like Orthodox Jews (excluding the converts and baalei teshuva) talk in shul. So we eighth graders had to whisper, but it was great fun.
I don’t think any of us had any strong belief in the church. It was just how we were raised. It was our social community. I don’t think any of us went on to lead an observant Adventist life.
I kept going to Vespers after that and kept sitting with my friends and with my parents gone, I finally felt like a normal kid and I got to do normal kid things like sit in church and talk the whole time. If my parents had been around, they would’ve put a stop to these hijinks. My parents were fervent believers. Adventism wasn’t just a social group or a good way to raise kids, it was God’s will for humanity (after my dad got kicked out of the church later that year, he said we belonged to the invisible church of Jesus Christ, and he really believed that).
When I think back to that night when Denise floated down the stairs to include me, to invite me up to the balcony to join my classmates, I well up. There’s no better feeling than being included by people you like. Yeah, I know I say and do ugly things, but I still yearn to be included.
Fast forward to May. My class went on a long bike ride on a Sabbath afternoon. I attached myself to Denise. I adored her. She biked really hard up the hill and I had to struggle to keep up. At a rest stop, she complained to somebody that I was sticking to her like glue and I got the word and left her alone. When people like her give me an inch of friendliness, I’m likely to try to take a mile.