Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Moments Inbetween

It’s a crazy time that between a death and resurrection. She doubts the resurrection bit. After hours in a hospital and no resuscitation, she’s desperate, confused. White coats and weird commiserations she finds herself in the arms of Patrick Byrne. Who’s Patrick Byrne. A fucking Franciscan monk that’s who… whoa baby…rewind.

On hearing the devastating news that the unconscious husband she saw ushered into an ambulance is well on his way to meet his maker. She hopes there is a god rather than an invisible pink unicorn but…she doubts it. Years of Catholic education have rendered her an awesome atheist.  Right now, she’s praying.  Praying to an entity in which she doesn’t believe. Stupid stuff. Then the voice in her head whispers ‘what if you’re wrong’ and the doubt seeps, especially at moments like these. As if she’s ever had a moment like this.  Confusion rains, panic, fear and she’s piled into another ambulance screaming after the first and whispering above the sirens , “Don’t die, please God don’t let him die.”
Green tiled walls, the smell of phenol. She waits. She waits for news she knows in her heart is not going to be good.

Back to the cassocked man….he’s Patrick Byrne alright,  a young priest from a wealthy family in New Zealand.  He’s the son of a racing stud owner, and a man who once lived the life of Riley…bad pun.  As a child he witnesses the pain and certain demise of a mare with a breach birth and says a prayer. “Please God, let her live. She’s my favourite, please, don’t let her die…”

 At the moment of euthanasia, the animal suddenly stands sending the vet proffering a syringe of green dream flying across the stable. One mighty push and the mare drops the foal they’ve tried for hours to release from the ailing mare's vice like grip. This is more than a 10 year old can comprehend. He’s convinced that it’s a miracle, an act of God.  A horse on the verge of death, gives birth to a foal that should be dead, yet both are alive. Whinnying and licking, loving and warm, broken free from a pink placenta, now resting on golden hay. He thinks it’s God’s work. This one moment is the miraculous beginning to a life of devotion. He decides he’s going to be a priest. 

Today he’s the wrong priest, but the right priest. Her Patrick Byrne married them, Christened her children, was old and looking towards retirement. Who knew that the young Franciscan Patrick Byrne had been assigned to her local parish? Actually, he hadn’t.

She only attended Mass occasionally and only because her kids were being raised that way. A nuptial promise based on a flawed premise.  He’d asked that his children be raised as Catholics and she didn’t see any harm in complying.  She didn’t care. She wanted to be married on a beach or in a garden. He felt it necessary to adhere to the mores of religion. The full shebang.  She’d loved the dress, the pomp, the ceremony, the service…but no….God was not in her vocabulary. Omnipotent or interventionist, God does not exist. No more than fabled creatures or magical powers. God to her was just a concept to control, subjugate and riddle lives with guilt. 

In her moment of greatest need and confusion, arrives 'St Frances'. What? That’s what he looks like. He’s wearing a coarse brown cassock with hood, gathered with a knotted belt and a large wooden cross hanging from a piece of rope around his neck. His feet, despite the chilly March morning, are swathed only in Jesus sandals. He is young and has the face (dare she think it without believing) of an Angel. 

He reaches for her hands and takes both in his, “Helen? I’m Pat…I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Words spoken a thousand times she thinks. But hey, it was on her instruction he was contacted. The good nurse bidding terrible news had asked should she call someone. “Yes, a priest” the novice widow had replied. The well-meaning nurse, just managed to call the wrong priest. 

 “Yes. That's me.  Thank you for coming but who are you? I asked for our Parish priest, Father Patrick Byrne.”

“Oh…there seems to have been some confusion…you live in King’s Park?”

“Yes…”

“I’m the parish priest there… the hospital called me.”

“There's been a mistake. My Parish is St Michaels. Father Byrne has been around since Job was a baby,”

She’s embarrassed at the levity of her response. Then reality hits. It’s like that.Up…Down…High…Low….and her tears flow. She's a mess and doesn't care as long as someone reads his last rites.

“I’m sorry." She collects, or so she thinks, "Please, he would have liked to have seen a priest." She can’t finish the sentence before the floodgate opens again. 

The man in brown understands. He’s seen bereavement before and embraces her as she sinks her face into the course wool of his medieval garment. She’s not sure whether to laugh at this man or respect his faith. For now, he’s a shoulder, and at times like these, any shoulder will do.

Her mother races down the green tiled, phenol scented corridors, followed calmly by her father. The big man is attempting valiantly to halt the water in his eyes, and provide support. The frantic matriarch racing with arms outstretched. The priest has gone to do what must be done.

“He’s a Franciscan monk!” she tells her mother. Such stupid words at a confusing time but that’s exactly what she said.

“Oh my darling. Oh my God…” is all her mother has in response. It’s a shock. He was barely 35 years old, healthy, strong, quiet, gentle. He was the perfect foil to their hot tempered and passionate daughter. How could THIS happen.

All she thinks about is the priest. What’s he saying? What’s he doing? The rite is over and ‘Patrick call me Pat’, swings by and hugs her once again. “Anything. . . anything at all, please call me…”
He issues a plain and cheaply printed card. “I mean it Helen, any time of day or night. If you need to talk, have questions…just call. I’m sorry for the confusion. Apparently Father Byrne from St Michaels is on leave. They found my name and number, put it together with your address and assumed that you were one of my parishioners. I’m so sorry if I intruded in any way…rest assured. Your husband has had the rites. He is at peace and in the bosom of a forgiving God.”

With that, he flurries away, kicking the tails of a cassock with scantily leather clad feet, reaches for his hood and leaves like a member of the Spanish Inquisition. 

The flurry of flowers and commiserations precede the funeral. The misery of loss and adaptation. The questioning of a faith unfelt.  All this and the appearance of familiars confuse the young widow. An owl on a streetlight has poignancy. The quietness of children who don’t understand the activity almost Svengali - the hugs and commiserations of strangers anger - the solace of friends and alcohol induce soporificity. There’s laughter and tears and rememberance and, the connection with old friends. Emotions tumble like tangled lovers and angry foes.

Then he walks in. He's come to see how she is and ask whether she's found someone to complete the service. She hasn't, and she's pleased to see him. It’s a sunny afternoon. Friends and family are on the patio commiserating, remembering, laughing, crying. So odd is this brown clad man who slips back his hood to reveal the face of a 20 something. So young to be a priest. So inexperienced to be a counsellor but she trusts him. She likes him.

Moments alone are few but they do exist. Sitting by the hearth they talk. She questions his faith and hopes there is a god, a heaven and all its wonders. He assures her that there is, but there’s doubt in his eyes. He comes every day for four days, just to talk, console and listen to her ramblings. Many made under the influence of wine, too much wine.

The funeral’s arranged and in those heady days of mourning and outpouring of emotion, food arrives in quantity, gifts from well-meaning but interfering mourners.  Floral tributes fill the lounge room with their perfume, so quickly turning to sickening stench. Why send flowers? Just write a note or call. Tell her how wonderful he was, how much he was valued, loved, appreciated.

It’s evening and the commotion rendered silent by the lateness of the hour. They share a moment. 

“I need some air. I need to get out of here…” She takes his hand as naturally as if he were a lover and leads him beneath the trees. 

Leviathons of leaf and bark reach heavenly as she crooks back her neck and stares at the night sky. The brightness of the Southern Cross made more so by the absence of a moon.

“Is there a heaven? Do you really believe in heaven?”

The response is unexpected.“I did…I want to…”

This is not the response she needed from the faithful. She’s ready to change, ready to acknowledge that the father of her children, the love of her life has something greater to look forward to.

“I had an email today. My sister is dying.”

She instinctively turns and embraces him. Felt the warmth beneath the wool. The wetness of his tears against her cheeks.

“Oh Pat, I’m so sorry. And here you are ministering to strangers when you should be with her.”

His face says it all. He’s about to minister at a funeral for a 35 year old man and attempt to console his 30 year old faithless widow.  A man who shouldn’t have died, yet all he’s thinking about is a sister who’s demise is imminent.  Another young woman dealt a deadly hand while God stands by and idly watches. For the first time in a long time, he’s questioning his faith.

“I’m sorry…” she whispers. Her breath upon his neck, her arms around his waist. Unconscious, consolation and she is oblivious to the inappropriateness of her behaviour.

He kisses her beneath the stars. The bereaved and the bereft. A moment, quiet and sweet. Gentle as the lamb of God. A moment that has both questioning everything.  She questions her lack of spirituality and beliefs. She wants to believe. He questions his acknowledgement of what some refer to as the ‘invisible pink unicorn,’ the existence and faith in something unheard, unseen, intangible and ridiculous.  The encounter is brief and gentle but they pull apart and wipe their mouths in a moment of abject embarrassment.  

“I should go home after this,” is all he says.

“I should move on after this,” is all she says.

 She saw him once again after the funeral. She went to his Church to watch him preach. The service was sweet, the voices strong and he smiled at her, even though she was in the furthermost pew. She queued with the others to shake his hand. He held both her hands once again and placed his whispering lipls against her cheek, “I’m going home tomorrow…” he said. “This is my last service.”

She let him go, wishing him luck and asking him to keep in touch. He never does. She never found out whether he left the priesthood, whether his sister died or whether he managed to hold onto his faith. She does know that she let go of any remnant of hers. God is a furphy, a unicorn, a fantasy. But she remembers him often and wonders whether he kept the faith or succumbed to the fantasy.

She feels slightly guilty in her blasphemy. And slightly smug that she kissed a man of the cloth.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Blasphemy and Unicorns"

8 comments:

  1. I like this. Your description of the inner turmoil in the days between hospital and funeral feel real. I'm glad I don't know for sure, and so sorry that you do.

    "The questioning of a faith unfelt." - great line.

    P.S. I'm guessing that the 1% is his name.

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  2. This could be really, really good. Everything is there, but it's painfully rushed, poorly edited, and feels slapped together as quickly (and perhaps drunkenly) as possible. You know how I talk about patient writing? This needs a heavy dose.

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  3. aw. maybe a bit quick, but i see shades of genius in this, especially the middle parts that are brilliant. C'mon, this type of writing comes from the soul, Helen...you've got one

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  4. My first visit here... some thoughtful comments, too. Perhaps a little predictable? There is more to develop, me thinks.

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  5. No matter the why or whose doing it, sometimes all you can do is pray. Emotional undoing is one of your best angles. -J

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  6. You make me move on to create a very positive new life for myself..Thanks from my heart..

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