Shuffling in from the downpour under the portico of Grace Church, I fumble for a fresh KN95 mask, then withdraw my phone from my pocket to display my electronic vaccination pass and, then, in a separate app, my tickets. Yes, of course, thank you, yes, it’s a few extra steps these days, isn’t it? Thank you for coming. For coming to offer your arm last year, for coming out in the rain, for coming to say goodbye to a world that has already left, for coming to greet a new world not yet arrived. Would you like a program? Yes, I would. I would like a program so very much.

The program: Sergey Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil.Since March 2020 I have carried two tickets to hear the West Village Chorale perform this program, a performance never heard. Two years, two wallets, and one child later, those tickets are still in my wallet beside strips of photos stamped SOPHIA’S BAT MITZVAH, the last social occasion we attended in the old world. Sophia now goes by Ruth, her middle name. Ruth is now in high school. Ruth went to Paris for a month to improve her French. Ruth is giving her parents a loving run for their money.

The program: thick glossy paper, featuring a reproduction of Konstantin Somov’s Portrait of the Composer: Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff, 1925. The portrait now lives in the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, a strange fate considering that of the All-Night Vigil itself. Debuted to tremendous acclaim in March of 1915 after having been composed in two weeks, it was mothballed in 1917 until being resurrected over fifty years later in the name of academic study. And Rachmaninoff found himself a refugee in New York City by 1918. He was not personally religious, but he loved the music of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Vigil reflects this deep reverence for the ineffable in the tradition. The program tells me all this and more, and it is beautiful, as a text and as an artifact, and it grieves me.

The program: I wish I knew it.

I take the program and find a seat among the narrow dark pews of Grace Church, nearly two hundred years old, a French Gothic Revival adorned with stained glass and a mosaic of the Great Commission. Go into all the world, Jesus urged his disciples, for lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

I am soaked from the rain that has been falling all day. I have come from the Faith Ringgold show at the New Museum, where I saw her quilt Born in a Cotton Field. I saw in the quilt an image of the Holy Family as sharecroppers, surrounded by other sharecroppers who peeked out between the cotton blossoms, all of them encircled in the arms of a Black Father God. These people are holy, Ringgold insists, to a world that never saw them as anything close to it. What holiness did I see in the unhoused people, struggling with trash bags and broken umbrellas, I passed to seat myself in this warm, dry church? What holiness did we see in the lives of the one million excess deaths we have absorbed since the last time I was supposed to hear this program? What have we learned?

Everyone here has learned, maybe, because they would not have been allowed in out of the rain otherwise. Everyone wears a mask. Everyone offers their vaccination passes. The crowd falls silent as the Choral Society of Grace Church files in and takes their places on the risers. We did what was asked of us. We passed into the new world. We have our programs.

The third movement, “Blessed is the man,” is what pulls the tears from my eyes, and in this space I can finally weep behind my KN95 for the old world. I can weep for the self that died, entirely unmourned, on the operating table at Brooklyn Methodist while new life was drawn from my unconscious body, the self that could take an entire day to look at art and listen to music whenever she wanted. I can weep for the one million I will never know. Their hands might have prepared a meal for me, cleaned the operating room where my daughter was born, cared for my grandmother when she was dying. I can weep for the deaths in Ukraine, at least a few of them likely at the hands of the descendants of those who wept at the first performance of the All-Night Vigil,and I can weep for those descendants, deluded or oppressed or both, enough to slaughter their cousins and neighbors. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, the choir sings, and I pray, bless them anyway.

Rachmaninoff composed the All-Night Vigil in Church Slavonic, a language that is not spoken, only sung and prayed, a language that is the receptacle and conduit of that which can be only sung or prayed. The fifth movement, “Now lettest thou,” is the one Rachmaninoff requested to be sung at his funeral. Lord, now lettest thou your servant go in peace. He died having taken the citizenship of another country, having never returned to Russia or to the church, having had his music suppressed by the Soviet Union in retaliation for his criticism of their policies. Blessed is the man.

Bless us all, God of the All-Night Vigil, bless the sharecroppers, bless the artists, bless the unhoused and the unmourned. Bless even me, even when I am idle, even when I am self-pitying. Bless me, if you can, with a program; and if not, bless me with music and quilts and a place to get out of the rain.

When the program finishes, I take the subway uptown and arrive at the Moynihan Train Hall, where there is nowhere to sit unless you purchase a train ticket or a meal. I transfer to the train that will take me home, along the South Shore of Long Island, where I am met by my husband and my daughter, the latter of whom will talk about this day for months afterward. Pick up Mama at the train station, she says, as if she is reminding me not to leave myself behind.