Happy New Year: An Epilogue
It was a chair. Or maybe it was a bench. The hallway was silent.
No. Not silent.
A peaceful hallway just outside of the chapel.
She was on silent retreat which, if done correctly – silently – provided for the loudest possible opportunity to hear her thoughts, convictions, memories, triumphs, upsets… and sins.
Why was she sitting on a bench outside the chapel? Sounds a bit like being reprimanded at school.
No, it was nearing her turn to go into confession. She was on deck. She was next.
Some hate confession. She found that to be mostly because it was misunderstood; a looming principal’s office where you receive the pink slip, that infraction for naughty behavior with a warning, detention, or worse.
Though she’d had experiences of rather, well, “crappy confessions” where she left feeling like the confessor conveyed to her that he’d been interrupted from something he’d rather be doing like getting his car washed or taking a siesta, she could say that, for the most part, her experience of confession to date truly had been of a blessed nature filled with grace, goodness and, yes, forgiveness.
But she had to admit not all confessions carried the same depth. Though the sacrament remained true none-the-less. (Whether she felt it or not.)
On this particular day, as she sat on that bench (or chair) having been well into the second of this three-day silent retreat, her personal convictions and thoughts were nearing the state of a silent – scream. Screaming within to get out.
And on that chair (or bench) the waging war – silently – began its ascent.
Are you really going to say THAT? Seriously? It’s not that big a deal. No one could blame you for THAT. You were just a kid. That’s going to be embarrassing…
Which soon morphed into:
Don’t waste this old priest’s precious time. You aren’t important enough. There are people here who have better and much more needed confessions than you.
And then the sardonic tones began to set in – less silently:
You don’t need forgiveness for that…
And then her nerves began as miniature volcanic eruptions beneath her skin, swarming like bees…a full-on assault toward the center of her heart….silently squeezing…ripping into and enveloping… so that her heart-pump couldn’t quite thump at full strength… her nerves ramped up as if she were about to perform for a house of a thousand theatre critics. Just after a car wreck. Naked.
Well, what ARE you going to say? Okay, do you have to tell the whole story? They hate it when you talk too much. They don’t need the WHOLE story. You’ll bore him. You’ll annoy him.
He won’t understand. You’ll look like a fool. This is POINTLESS. JUST. WALK. AWAY.
By the grace of God (and a natural desire, right or wrong, to control) she remain seated:
OKAY! THEN JUST CONFESS SOMETHING ELSE. ANYTHING ELSE! (YOU DID STEAL STARBURST CANDY AT THE STORE WHEN YOU WERE FIVE. THAT’S SOMETHING SMALL. YOU’VE NEVER CONFESSED THAT. STEALING IS BAD. CONFESS THAT. YOU’RE NOT READY FOR THIS.)
The door cracked open. A purified soul floated out and into the chapel oblivious to the cacophony and spurting blood wounds on the bench-chair.
It was her turn.
Her stomach was now in knots. She felt like throwing up. Maybe she was right. Maybe this was the stupidest thing she’d ever done. But maybe that’s something she’s good at. Being stupid.
She and Stupid walk in.
It’s not a traditional confessional “box”. It’s just a lovely well-lighted room (“Well-lighted?!” she reels…). She has a choice. She can kneel with a curtain between her and the priest or she can sit in a chair beyond the veil and face him.
“I think I’ll hide, er, kneel,” she quips to herself inside her already crowded brain.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been a few months since my last confession.”
Then there was silence. Not a prayerful silence. Not a Godly silence but the silence of being suppressed, muffled, by an outside force. Her vocal cords had been severed.
She pushed through, her voice taking on a new sandpaper-like quality.
“I…this is hard. I feel stupid. I know I was … well this is from when I was a little girl… when I was about nine? or ten?… or much younger? I don’t remember. I was very young. I…I said a… a prayer that —”
Then it HIT. It slammed into her like a truck swerving and veering down the wrong way on a two-lane interstate. This truck barreled in, in the likeness of a migraine.
She stopped speaking with a choke as her hand flew to her forehead, her other hand steadying herself at the kneeler; tears began to trickle, then flood, as the sharp, unforgiving, pain crashed down; an inexplicable sledgehammer from all possible angles slamming in – without apology.
“I’m sorry, Father, I’m getting a migraine.” This confession began to take on a life of its own. “What is happening?” she doubled over. “I… I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Would you like a drink of my water?” An aged arm reached round the veil holding a cool clear glass.
You can’t drink Father’s water! He’ll think you’re insane. He already thinks it.
“I’m okay,” she said. “I’ll be ok.” (I just have to press through. No one is perfect at confession, she thinks.)
ESPECIALLY YOU. Her brain pounds at her again.
But she knew enough to know that the worse the attack, the more urgent the confession. This one must be a doozy.
She must proceed.
YOU’RE STUPID!!! YOU’RE JUST A STUPID GIRL WITH STUPID THOUGHTS! [Bang! Bang! Bang! Goes the steel of the hammer.]
She steeled herself though, pulled up, steadied her body, and pressed on in a whisper.
“When I was a girl, I prayed a prayer that I would be…”
SHUT UP!!!!!!! THIS ISN’T EVEN A SIN! SHUT YOUR MOUTH YOU WORTHLESS RIDICULOUS CHILDISH BRAT! THIS ISN’T EVEN REAL!
“I prayed that I would be …”
The migraine intensified and the desire to vomit nearing to blacking out reared every flavor of ugliness.
A breeze. A breath alighted in from nowhere. From somewhere. The breath of mercy. The breath of compassion and grace. And in the midst of the heavy metal construction, amidst the war of life and death, amidst the wretched attack on this poor soul, the final word came out. Finally. It drifted out from her tongue simply and quietly without a drop of the drama and fanfare that had been thrusted and accused upon her until that moment.
And with that one word, all went silent. All noise ceased. The conductor had given the final swoosh and signal of the baton. The hammering had been stopped. And with it the migraine; gone as if it had never been. As if it had all been a dream. The tears shifted from fear to remorse for something this little girl, who now kneeled in this woman’s place, just had not understood.
Once again this was a retreat of silence.
She’d said it. She’d won the battle. She got it out of her heart where it had festered for somewhere near forty years. She could now add to her list of triumphs the partnering of uprooting a deadly weed. A nasty lie. How had it gotten planted?
But now, though it was an innocent question, it didn’t matter how it got there. What mattered is that it had been ripped out by the root and was on its way to being no more.
What would this priest say? By the mere act of following through, part of her didn’t even care anymore. But what God started He would finish. What happened next would be one of the biggest and most fruitful surprises. An act of unexpected mercy by the telling of the truth.
“Well, yes,” Father began… “You were young. A little girl. But,” he said frankly with the air of calling a spade a spade, “this prayer was wrong, it was wrong of you to pray that,” he said compassionately, speaking respectfully, as a Father speaking gently to a nine year old misguided child. He simply called it what it was. Wrong.
“For we are a people of life. We are a people of the living. And this little girl, it was clear, was praying the prayer of death out of a very misguided, (for she had been guided), fear.”
There was no condemnation in his voice. But in effect by saying this he thwarted every voice that told her she was an idiot to come to him with this. For it was sinful; greatly missing the mark.
She listened to the wisdom, the life, the mercy in Father’s voice. She listened to the guidance she’d not been given at the age of nine when there was no one to guide her away from something that would bring her to this point.
Why had this been so important? You could also ask why was she childless? Why had she so many internal reproductive illnesses in her life? Why was she so afraid, inexplicably afraid at such a young age, of childbirth when she should have been more concerned with climbing trees or turning perfect cartwheels?
Why had she never, not once, not on purpose, not accidentally, ever been pregnant?
Why had she never forgotten herself crying in frozen fear, hands clasped together begging the God, to whom no one had introduced her, to become this big word she shouldn’t even know?
And why had God granted her request?
And how would she ever undo all the twisted lies upon lies that had layered themselves upon each other.
She would confess. Maybe something would happen.
And it did.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness happened.
And yet more was in store. Father said,
“Are you game for something?”
“Uh… sure.” She’d come this far….
“Will you do something for me? This will be a different kind of penance. I think it will appeal to your creative nature. (Somewhere in there he’d gotten wind she was the creative type.)
“Yes.” She was in, for she greatly desired to be rid of the past. To be healthy and strong in her mind again. God had already, miraculously, redeemed her physical health. It was time to dig in. She was ready for heart surgery.
“Here is your penance:” And then Father proceeded not with Hail Marys or Our Fathers… but an altogether different kind of penance assignment.
“I want you to find a quiet place, perhaps your room. I want you to pray and invite the Lord to walk with you outward to the end of a long pier. You are taking with you a very big chest. You each carry one side of this large, heavy, and ancient chest by the handles. When you reach the edge of the pier, you will set it down. The Lord will ask you to make sure everything you just told me, told Him, is inside this chest. Leave nothing outside. Put it all in there. Ask Him to help you. When you are finished, together you will shut it tight. The Lord will put a large lock on it. It will remain locked. Never to be opened again.”
“Now the Lord says, ‘Are you ready?’ And you say ‘Yes’. Then you will watch as He picks up the chest and with his mighty arm, he flings the chest out into the abyss of the sea. He is strong. The chest is flung so far out that you can no longer see it. But in the distance, you hear a splash. Perhaps a gurgle.”
“The chest sinks into the darkness and depths of the sea never to be found again. By anyone. Gone forever. Gone for eternity.”
“The Lord looks at you and smiles.”
“But before you both walk away, the Lord gives you something to place at the edge of the pier.”
“It is a large sign.”
“And as you place it down you look up to read two words in bold capitalization:”
“You smile that closed-mouthed knowing smile that only God can gift. Now you take His hand…and together, you walk away.”
He took a moment, then asked, “Can you do this?” (Was it Father asking? She wasn’t sure.)
“Yes!” the little girl quickly responded, thrilled perhaps for the first time at the given penance. “I’ll go do it right now!”
The contrition was spoken, and the absolution given.
She stood up after the blessing, blessing Father in return.
The door cracked open… and out she floated, a newly purified soul, only minutely aware of the nervous bouncing knee attached to the woman now waiting her turn.
She obediently accomplished her penance fully and was emptied of the long dark sorrow and weight of a childish responsibility she didn’t know she never should have taken.
She’d been through so much in her life regarding fertility, her fear of having children, her regret of being biologically motherless, of feeling it was All. Her. Fault.
But, being loved, God just won’t have that. For He delighted in her regardless of the overgrowth of weeds.
For she is mine, He said. I knit her in her mother’s womb. I will right this. I will take this weight. And when I do, I will have only one request of her. And I will request it in such a way that only she will understand. Others won’t. Some may tempt her to return to the days of old, so I’ll need something memorable, something that sticks out. Perhaps a sign that says: