Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 14, 2010

Broken Loose

A voice calling up the stairs woke him.  “It’s raining.  Are you walking to Mass this morning?  If so, you’ve not much time.  You‘re the lector, you know.”

The old man looked out his bedroom window and thought, “In Ireland today would be a soft day, today’s rain a dry rain.” More a mist than a rain it materialized rather than fell, on leaves and lawns, on windows and windshields.

He washed and dressed.  Downstairs he asked, “Will the children be here this afternoon?”  “Jeanne’s supposed to call me later on,” his wife said.  “She wasn’t sure, but I’m glad I went to Mass last night, anyway.  I can get everything ready while you are there this morning.”  “Grand,” he replied from the hallway, putting on his jacket.   As he left the house a moment later, she called after him, “Take an umbrella, at least!”

“Why,” he thought.  Nothing was needed for protection from this weather.  Going outside for the short walk to church  felt oddly like being cradled in a womb.  The clouds were low, embracing the trees.  The light was soft, and, so, the rain. Everything was muted, calm, and close.

He entered the sacristy and heard, “How is your father-in-law doing?”  The one asked the other standing over by the window.  “Oh fine.  You know how it is, I’m sure.  We’re helping him to find a place to live.  Somewhere close to us we hope.  We’ve even told him there’s room at our house,” she answered.  “You’d do that?” A look of critical surprise crossed the first woman’s face as she said it.  The rest of those gathered in the sacristy before the eight o’clock Mass looked over at them.

“Why not?  We have enough space.  It’s not like I’ve never done it before … my mother, may she rest in peace, lived with us for fourteen years,” the other said.

“Oh, I don’t believe in that,” a third woman opined.  She wore an expensive looking dress, and for an early morning Mass looked ready for an evening out.  “We had both sets of grandparents living at our house when I was a child,” she continued.  “They took it over, had their favorites among the children and played them.  If they can, I think older people should be alone.  We can visit them, or telephone.”

This brought  a few smiles, but not a word was spoken for a long minute or so.  What isn’t said can be very loud, sometimes.

During his homily Father Simon talked about the dead.  He mentioned the late Pope’s funeral; the biggest one ever.  “We can be proud of that,” he said.  “That is something we can boast about.  But we shouldn’t forget to pray for the souls in Purgatory.

Mass was over and the old man left the church.  He walked slowly down the stairs nodding greetings to some of the people pushing by on their way to cars.  Some waved back.  Some mouthed a quick, “How are you?” then hurried on out into the mist.  As he reached the sidewalk a small dog nosed by, pulling his small boy behind.

“Wait,” a voice called.  He stopped and turned to see was it he who should be waiting.  The caller, the one who would open her home to her father-in-law, was coming toward him.  “How did it go?” she asked.  “Oh, fine.  She found nothing more.  I’m happy with that,” he said, smiling down at her.  “That’s good,” the other replied with a brisk nod of her head for emphasis.

“I like her, actually.  I think she’s the best I’ve ever had.”

“If you don’t mind I’ll tell her that.  She’s the best I’ve ever worked for,” said the lady.  “She really cares for her patients.”  “I could tell,” he answered.  “Funny thing, it felt like I was more at someone’s home than in a doctor’s office.  She talked about you, you know.”

“Oh,” she paused, a small frown on her otherwise untroubled face.  “What did she say?”

“I can’t remember why, now, but at some point she said, ‘My God!’  Then she told me laughingly not to let you know she’d said it or you’d give out to her about taking the Lord’s name in vain. “

The woman paused, put a hand to her face.  “I really have to watch myself, sometimes.  But I can’t help it.”

“How do you mean?”

“I say things.  The other day I was in Daly’s looking at some dresses.  Two of the girls who work there were in the same aisle arranging things.  One of them said, ‘I think I’m going to get an abortion.’”

“How sad,” the old man said.

“Yes.  It was so matter of fact, the way she said it.  I wasn’t sure if I actually heard her right.  But then the other girl told her she couldn’t get one since she was too young.  She needed her parents’ permission.”

“Well, what then?” he asked.

“The girl said she didn’t care.  If she went to a clinic they would just refer her to a place out of state.  So, she said, ‘I’ve decided to do it.’”

“They were having this conversation with you right there?” he asked.

“I don’t know if they were aware of me.  Or if it mattered at all.,” she answered.

As they stood there talking the day began to change .  The curtaining rain got heavier and a chill wind shivered through the trees.  Leaves began to fall.

The old man turned and walked back toward the church.  She followed.

“I couldn’t help myself.  I put back the dress I was looking at and turned to the girl.  I said, ‘And you’ll regret that decision for the rest of your life.’  I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but I had to say something.  I kept thinking God would ask me some day what did I do for that girl in Daly‘s.”

The old man stopped and thought for a moment.  “Who knows whether it was the right thing.  You said what you had to say.  You certainly didn’t condemn her.”

“I have a sister-in-law who got an abortion just before she got married.  That was about twenty years ago.  Her mother took her down to the place.  She did it because she didn’t want to look pregnant in her wedding dress .”

They stopped at the door to the church.  The rain was lashing at them now.

“Let’s get inside out of this,” the old man said with a gesture at a blast of dead leaves going by.  Inside the vestibule of the church they shook off some of the wet and relaxed in the quiet while rain and wind beat at the world outside.

“Her wedding gown?” he asked.

“Yes, and her mother agreed.  That marriage didn’t last long.  So much anger…  she became very bitter.  She remarried, but couldn’t have children.  Now, she’s driven everyone away from her.  Her husband is an attorney in Worcester.  He‘s older than she is..  When he dies, she’ll have no one.  She’ll be alone.”

“She hasn’t forgiven herself,” he said.

“No, nor anyone else.”

“We’re here,” he said.  “Let’s pray for her.”

“Let’s pray for them both.”

They did.

Later he walked home in the storm, arriving cold, wet, and quite worn out.

“I was worried,” his wife said, pouring tea.

“It’s turned a hard, angry day,” he answered sipping gratefully.  “Did you hear from the kids?”

“Yes, they called while I was waiting for you to get back.  They’re staying put, with the storm like this.  Jeanne said all hell’s broken loose down their way.”

“It’s better, so,” he said, and sipping tea stared out at nature’s fury.


  1. a storm is truly brewing old friend, but, thanks be to God, we have the umbrella of Christ. thanks for your reflections.

    • You are very welcome, Father. I hope all is well and you are healing.

  2. Weird, I’ve never thought of you as old!

    • Nor have I ever thought the same of you!


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