"Chuck gave his life to Christ a long time ago as a young Marine in a railroad car on the first leg of his deployment to Korea. In his family, there's been some confusion about whether he was baptized as a child, and he wants to be sure. He comes to his baptism today a long time member of the family God, a man who wants to mark that membership. We're delighted to be here with him as he does."
The minister's tan, bald head bobs a bit as he stands in a water-filled glass tank behind the altar. Red and purple and blue light plays on his white robe as flashes of lightning illuminate the stained glass windows behind him. The organist plays a background melody accompanied by the snare drums of driving rain on the roof and the bass line of occasional thunder.
Dad appears at the steps on the side of the tank, wearing a white robe made for a much larger person. He hesitates, takes the first step, then walks his hands down wall as he makes his way into the water one halting step at a time. His robe billows, which makes him look like a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade—minus the guide wires, of course. He flies with nothing but faith to tether him to the earth today.
The glass front of the tank allows the congregation to see everything. The minister asks if he accepts Jesus as his savior and Dad replies in a firm, clear voice that even the deafest old woman sitting in a back corner of the church can hear. He crouches a bit so the minister can reach his head to guide him backward into the water. Dad, who does not swim and has a pathological fear of being under water, falls back willingly. His cheeks puff as he holds his breath.
When Dad stands, the wet robe clings to him. The folds of his belly and the outline of his shorts are visible. I don't know whether they're visible in fact or only in memory, but I see the shadows of scars from repeated surgeries on his lungs and abdomen and shoulder: a map of the world with no key. He wipes his face and gasps for air. The congregation claps and Dad nods, then struggles back up the steps.
The congregation sings several hymns as the minister and Dad change: "Nothing Is Impossible," and "Now We Thank Thee All Our God," and "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart." The minister emerges, wearing a black robe and hand-woven sash. He announces special concerns and prayer requests and celebrations. Dad slips back into the pew, dressed again in an oxford shirt and khakis. Mom takes his hand and he leans over to kiss her fingers.
Mom turns to Dad and he wraps both arms around her and kisses her full on the mouth for two or three seconds, a we're-in-this-together kiss, a you-are-my-world kiss, an I'll-love-you-in-the next-world-too kiss. Envy sparks in the eyes of two gray-haired women behind them. Each turns and wipes away tears. Neither Mom nor Dad seem to remember there's anyone else in the room or maybe even on the planet as they hold each other close.
Finally, they turn to listen to the rest of the service, but their hands remain as knotted as the veins crossing their knuckles. Mom's left hand rests on top of their intertwined hands, holding the part of Dad's fingers she can reach beyond that first grasp. She rests her head on his shoulder and he rests his head on hers. Nothing about it is unseemly, but it is almost too intimate to bear.
After the service, Mom and Dad stand with the minister, shaking hands and accepting congratulations and welcome. Their joy burns like a flame, even in the bright light of the narthex. When the last hand has been shaken, they thank the minister, join hands, and walk out into the storm. Together.