In the Eyes of the Lord

Stela XHIKU

  Photo: Yana Paskova

Photo: Yana Paskova

“Every eye will see him.” (Rev. 1:7)

Suspicious activity on the M be damned, because we made it, me and Jerry, to the Met.

We check our coats and start at the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing where I imagine that I had toy-hippos, very small and very chubby, instead of feet. I suspect this happens because I’m wearing socks that are the very same blue as that ancient Egyptian hippo, William. They would take me everywhere, these hippos that make me feel like two kids stacked in one adult overcoat – make me feel, that is, like I’m floating. 

We see Rodin. 

We see Gauguin and his Two Tahitian Women who have me and a teenage boy bending our heads. Once his mom backs off, I ask him, “what are you looking at for so long?” 

“I love Gauguin,” starts his British accent, “have you seen him at MoMA?”

Goddamn snobbery! And it’s everywhere – even at the Michelangelo exhibit where everyone seems to be OK watching ceiling-monitors of the Sistine chapel diagonally from against the walls. We keep trying to look up at it but, my god, it’s striking us down. Jerry gives up, lays on the floor. Wallpeople straighten their toes and start to smile. 

I walk up to the guard, point to the floor and yell, “Is this ok?”

“Not really. Plus, it’s gross.” 

“But my neck hurts looking at this thing!”

“Have you been to the real one?”

“It’s even higher!” said a man in the crowd.

We see the American Wing. 

We see Joan of Arc, who scared me as a kid. 

We tour Classic Greece for Medusa but never find her. 

We leave. 


At Le Pain Quotidien, I leave Jerry alone with his baguette. 

It’s five o’clock and the Upper East Side is dark, cold and there aren’t any CVSs or bathrooms. 

A church on 83rd must have one. It must! I stare at it long enough to see a man bust out the front entrance and rush for the side door. He has one hand in a sling and the other jiggling the knob. 

“It’s closed, sorry,” he tells me. “I’m just here for choir practice. I’m really late, too.” 
 
He was so late, in fact, that he didn’t have time to politely shoo me away, thinking it easier to guide me through a lobby, up stairs, over a courtyard, backstage, and finally into the main chapel where I sit center pew. 

This was the St. Ignatius Loyola All-Boys High School Christmas Choir. 
 
The bandleader is popping his lips when he waves me in, their only audience member. Soon as my slingy friend steps into the pyramid, they begin a strong hum. 

Thing is, I was born in a communist Albania, raised to celebrate New Years, not Christmas. Even though the celebrations were practically identical: complete with the tree, the presents, and the old man from the Coca Cola ads. I swore, like every Albanian in a place and time where God just wasn’t available, on my mom’s head.

As an adult, God became even more suspicious when I discovered Christian subway-booklets, with their sunset landscapes and large welcomes, around my mom’s house. 


“What is this shit?” I asked after the third time. 


“Oh, those people cornered me in the metro,” she lied. (Thou Shalt Not Lie.) And it was a lie because I found the same scattered propaganda in her new apartment in Albania, this time in Albanian, “HE FORGIVES YOU.” Jesus’ call was coming from inside the house and he’d conned mom! My highest power!

So I became even more sure of zero god, created a profile with AtheistPassions.com and arranged for a Transcendental Info Session at The Center. 

The guru, who had a lullaby voice and piranha teeth, explained that it would be $960 for us to undergo four days of afterwork trainings to earn a personal mantra – a SparkNotes enlightenment. But they did try to add some layer of obedience: you can’t consume recreational drugs for fifteen days before the process and you have to arrive with fruits and flowers to your entrance ceremony.

Someone asks what the fruit are for. “There are always fruit here at the Center!” laughs sharp-tooth. Feeling so much the sucker, I leave but do grab an apple on my way out. 

The spiritual search continues, and it’s earnest. Will it always be phooey? Probably. 

All of this is to explain at length that I hope St. Ignatius might convince me, and that this is the first time I’ve been invited into a chapel.

And that facing each other in their habits, these singers knew it. 


“Protect me as you would the pupil of your eye.” (Ps. 17:8)

I settle upright, close-mouthed and minimally blinking – god-fearing? Just then, in a literal blink, He smote my left contact, peeling it into some fold of the eyelid so obscure it couldn’t be blinked back or picked out. 

I become the supplicant: kneeling, feeling the ground for that ungraspable, invisible thing, so certain that it's there, weeping (I’d really poked my eyeball), and turning my flashlight this-and-that-way. 

The organ hits and I scurry backstage, winking my tell-tale peeper at the singers. 

There, a chorus member looks to see if the contact might still be in the eye. I’m darting it around, “anything?” 

No. 

The octaves are gaining so I take my other contact out. Were a CVS nearby, I’d consider an eyepatch. 

I feel my fuzzy way around the wooden halls, looking for the holy toilet. I find two boys’ rooms before realizing these do-gooders don’t even have a ladies’ room! I take my angry pee and make a decisive exit for 83rd. 

Just outside, a dog-walker clutches his strings as four dogs get into it with another dog passing. In the middle of it all, a dwindling Yorkie, being lifted and carried by its colleagues and wearing a tiniest pink vest tries to maintain herself, shackled to all of this barking. It’s enough to put me in hysterics.