The Church of the Sacred Manicure
I am a Catholic convert. And if you know anything about Catholicism, you know that no denomination has more perfected the rite of Confession – or Reconciliation, as they now call it – than the Catholics.
Add to that the fact that no one is more zealous than a convert…and guess what?
Building within me is this feeling, this yearning, this need as relentless as the urge to scratch…I want to confess.
I WANT TO CONFESS that, yesterday, while sitting at Iris’s station at Pretty Lady, I realized something not very pretty about myself: I am better at making my weekly manicures than I am at making Mass.
Yes, judging by my behavior over the past few months, I am more concerned about the maintenance of my nails than the sustenance of my soul.
As I said, not pretty. But then I got to thinking…
Pretty Lady is a pretty wondrous place, and not because it is girly with things crystal, beribboned and sweetly floral, although I wallow in that kind of stuff as happily as a pig in slop. Pretty Lady Salon is wondrous for the same reason that long, solitary walks in a garden, watching the sun rise with the sandpipers, snatching a nap beneath a tree in an unexpected glade, or meandering among the tall, dried grasses of the Texas hill country are wondrous. It is quiet.
At Pretty Lady, none of the customers – barring the occasional chatty teenage girl or granddame social butterfly – says a word much beyond hello, thank you, or see you next week. I don’t know why, exactly. We just don’t. And even when my manicurist, Iris, or one of her colleagues speaks, which isn’t often, it is in gentle, hushed tones that brush over the rest of us like a breeze on a summer day.
I love it. The tension in me eases –infinitesimally, perhaps, on bad days – but it eases. It’s perceptible.
I breathe in, and I breathe out, and I breathe in, and I breathe out…and, in time, my mind catches on that it’s perfectly okay to follow the example of my motor mouth and switch gears to Park.
Sometimes, someone gets a pedicure and…ah, the bliss of it! I get to hear running water, too.
I often say that I hear God in Mozart, in laughter, in a birdcall, in the rain and in waterfalls. But, thanks to Pretty Lady, I have also learned that God can be found in a pedicure tub. Which, come to think of it, is not all that different, really, from a baptismal font.
Please don’t think I am being disrespectful or cavalier when I say this either. Others far more attuned to the Divine than I have made similar claims.
“They say that God is everywhere,” wrote poet Emily Dickinson. “And yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.”
So I was getting my manicure and basking in the Silence while Iris filed, buffed, cuticle clipped, and oiled my nails. Then she left for a moment, returning with a small bowl filled with warm water and began to scrub my hands.
And I found myself transported back in time, back to my first Holy Week as a Catholic-in-training...
It is the Thursday before Easter – Holy Thursday – and, moments before the service begins, my mentor, Debbie, blithely informs me that she has signed me up to take part in the foot washing.
“It’s very moving,” she assures me, pointing toward a cluster of barefooted parishioners and priests assembled in the vestibule of the church. “A wonderful experience.”
“Excuse me?” I say.
“It’s easy,” Debbie calls over her shoulder as she disappears into the sanctuary. “Just kick off your shoes and follow what the person in front of you does.”
I open my mouth to argue, but Debbie is gone.
The person in front of me is wearing robes. A priest.
“Excuse me,” I say, swallowing hard. I am still so new to the faith that priests scare me the bejesus out of me. “I’m rather inexperienced at this, and I’ve come down with a brutal case of stage fright. Would you mind explaining what I am supposed to do?”
The priest smiles. He is truly handsome – not Richard Chamberlain-in-The- Thornbirds handsome but memorable, although I can’t, now, for the life of me recall his name. Nor have I seen him since, although of course, being me, I have looked. I am beginning to suspect he was an angel.