It’s 2018 and I am smack-dab in the middle of my first-ever internship: The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. Essentially, it’s a boot camp in field biology. A group of 20 freshman/sophomore college students, we travel around California learning the ropes of conservation research.
I don’t call it a boot camp lightly. Early mornings, late nights, and only a handful of days off, we squeeze five Californian ecosystems (and five mini-research projects, complete with presentations and written reports) into two months.
A month into the experience, we had all reached a shared level of deliriousness. Not showering for days at a time and having little access to reception will do that to a person. Our attire was long pants and hiking boots. During our down time, flip-flops were the norm.
(Read more on what it’s like to work as an ecological technician here: The 5 Pros and Cons of Working as an Ecological Technician)
Usually, we were no more than a half an hour drive from the closest city. If you live in a big city, like I currently do, you call that a short commute. But without a car and far from any sort of public transportation, you call that Narnia. I was completely dependent on the instructors for transportation.
I didn’t mind. It’s what I had signed up for. Peaceful forest beats crowded highway any day in my book. But come Sunday, this became a point of real distress.
For the first time in my life, I could not attend to Mass.
To some, that might have seemed a stroke of luck. I can skip Mass without culpability? Great! But to me, it felt like I had suddenly been sentenced to two months without water. And though water can be substituted with milk and juice, it’s not quite the same. (In this imperfect analogy, the milk and juice stand for individual prayer.)
And so, each time we stopped in towns to resupply (about twice a month), I would beeline for the closest Catholic Church. There wasn’t ever a Mass, but at least I was inside a church.
About two weeks before the end of the program, we stopped in town to do laundry. We had scheduled more than one hour in town. I found a church within walking distance. Leaving my laundry in the care of a fellow intern, I set a quick pace through town.
The further I walked from my group, the more I remembered that the grimy standard of appearance we had adopted after almost two months of camping was not quite up to society’s standards. I tightened my ponytail, hoping no one would notice that my last shower had been days ago.
A block from the church, an increasing number of suits and dresses joined me in my general walking direction. I tugged at my Nike shorts which suddenly seemed not that appropriate…But it’s not like we were going to the same place, right? I increased my speed to get ahead of the fancy attire.
Finally, I arrived at the church. There seemed to be a large number of cars parked in the street, but there was no reason to think they were going into the church. There was no Mass after all, I had checked. I entered the church and, feeling self-conscious about my feral look, I slipped into the very back pew behind a conveniently placed pillar.
Aaaaaaah, I let out a contented sigh and closed my eyes.
I suppose that’s how I avoided noticing the fancy-attire people trickling into the Church. I was too focused on the familiar creaking of pews and the lingering smell of incense. This was just what I nee–
Bum-bum-pa-dum! Bum-bum, pa-dum!
My eyes flew open, surely that wasn’t…
I turned my head and, sure enough, a woman in a white gown stood at the door. The small gathering of people at the front of the church stood.
This was a wedding.
I jumped to my feet. It was the instinctual response to the song announcing the arrival of the bride. Besides, I couldn’t just sit when the bride was walking in! It was already disrespectful enough that I was in shorts and flip-flops. Not to mention that I had not been invited to this wedding. But it’s not like I could surreptitiously escape when her gown took up the entire entrance!
I lowered my eyes as she walked by, but there wasn’t much else I could do to avoid drawing attention. It wasn’t a full wedding, so she must have noticed the random Nike-shorts-and-flip-flop-wearing 19 year-old hiding behind a pillar.
To this day, I wonder what this woman thought of the stranger at her wedding. Perhaps it’s become a running joke in her family. But perhaps she realized that her wedding was an answer to a prayer. After all, what is a Catholic wedding? It’s a Mass.
So, yes, I crashed this woman’s wedding, but one could argue that I did have an invitation: God’s.
Later, a friend told me it didn’t count as crashing a wedding unless I had crashed the party. What do you think? Does it count?