the women who wear shawls

we attended mass at an old, large cathedral. its outside is a light beige color that is heavily decorated with carvings of angels and saints. its steeple, incredibly high and wide, displays sculptures of the virgin mary and jesus on its upper tiers. the church’s grand stained-glass windows are unclean, the images they attempt to illustrate indiscernible. the large, round cupola is the only element speckled with hues of burgundy, navy, and deep purple.

the inside of the cathedral intensifies its gothic design, the tops of its walls lined with more angels and saints. square spaces are carved inside of the walls, where life-size statues the virgin mary of guadalupe and other saints are placed in each one. lit candles lay at their feet, with folded notes that ask for the health of a loved one, blessings, the happiness of the dead, a wish. stone columns align the edges of the nave, and the mahogany colored pews situated between them. the alter’s background is embellished with gold, ornate depictions of divine icons and paintings of jesus ascending into heaven. there are an overwhelming number of red flowers that fill the alter, and the tall, white candles flicker beside them.

despite the air conditioner, women are fanning themselves with white church pamphlets. an infant begins to cry, and the older women who wear white or black shawls turn their heads towards the noise and shake their heads in disapproval. i find these women the interesting. they are seated up front, with other families and couples seated behind them. they sing with the choir in compelling voices of learned wisdom, wear rosaries around their necks, and raise their hands the highest while the priest recites a prayer that professes their unwavering faith.

the priest announces that mass has ended and that we may go in peace. everyone mumbles a thank you, father, and makes their way to the exit. the families who were sitting in the back are already in their cars now, driving away—they had left a few minutes ago when the end of the hour struck.

after 10 minutes everyone has left, except for the older women who are now kneeling at the feet of jesus, the virgin mary, or a saint. praying. they touch the feet of the divine and bow their heads even lower, placing their heads behind their clasped hands. before leaving, they make the sign of the cross.

who are these women, the ones who always wear shawls to mass despite the heat? why do they judge the unintentional disturbances of those around them, and recite prayers so loud that the voices of the other families are muted? do they want god to hear them and no one else? do they raise their hands higher than the height of those next to them so they can feel heaven on their fingertips? … they intrigue me.