Characters in My Life-Collage: The Radical Priest
Absolution. I knew I needed it, but I had this attraction, you see. Should I turn left or right? The glory of heaven or the pains of hell? It all started at a school board meeting. I was a single mom, having left an abusive husband and taking my three young children with me. I was still in recovery. And I was angry. How could a man have been so cruel? It would be a long time until I sorted through it all. In the meantime, I had these kids to raise.
We lived in a small house in a small community, but the house was on a busy road, one that seemed to beg people to drive fast, even though several families had children who walked that road to and from school. There were no speed limit signs along the stretch that our children walked. After several near misses of cars almost hitting my kids, I got together with other parents in the vicinity. We were all concerned and I was outraged, the anger in me over a multitude of issues still simmering beneath the surface. That is why they elected me to represent them at a school board meeting to try to have this speeding situation resolved. They liked my anger and feistiness.
The night of the school board meeting, the other parents were there, but I was the spokesperson. I stood to make our case, but when the board members seemed dismissive, I got louder, ranting and raving that they would have the blood of our children on their hands. They threw me out of the meeting!
I was standing in the parking lot by my car, and I was still steaming. That’s when he appeared. This handsome middle-aged priest with his collar, blue eyes and white-too-soon hair came over to me. He was gorgeous, not to mention off-limits. He laughed a quiet laugh in a velvet voice and said, “You kinda lost it in there.” It turned out that after I had been thrown out of the meeting, he had risen to my defense and was told to leave as well. I laughed as he told me the story. We talked for a long time under the glow of streetlights and he learned my story. “The best way to get rid of your anger is to help others, “he said. Then he asked me to do some volunteer work at a homeless shelter he ran in the community. I agreed and the next day I was there serving lunch to the homeless and castaways. It was a healing process. Father O’Riley had been right.
As the months went by, I became more and more involved with the shelter and soon Father O’Riley put me on the Board of Directors. He was truly a radical priest, refusing any government funds for this project and shunning any possible intervention by powers that be. We had a lot of meetings, he and I, and there was a glimmer in his eye every time we spoke. He would sometimes take my hand or put his arm around my shoulder. He peered into my eyes as a man, not a priest. But feelings were there, no doubt about it. I wrestled with these feelings, both as a Catholic who had almost joined the convent, and as a woman. Women know the signs, even if we don’t act upon them. Oh, but I wanted to act. He had me in my mind, and that is how a man first gets a woman, in her mind. Priest or not, he let his attraction to me be known. There were times when we were together that I thought I heard Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey saying, “Alert! Alert here! Sin about to be committed!” So I prayed.
God must have heard me because I soon received a job offer with a good salary and would move from that community. The hours at the board meetings ended, and so did my time with Father O’Riley. We kept in touch by phone and once in a while, I would read a newspaper article about him, always stirring the pot of politics in that community he loved.
Several years later, my Mom passed away. Though she had become a Catholic to please my father, she had never gone to Mass, nor had she been affiliated with any church. I called Father O’Riley and asked if he would preside over her funeral. Always accommodating, he said he would. After the services, I held a Wake at my house, which was brimming with people. My brother was tending bar, and had served Father O’Riley more than a few drinks. At some point, and it’s still a bit hazy, this gorgeous radical priest came up behind me, put his arms around me, and sighed into my ear. I could have died and gone to heaven—or hell, had I chosen the wrong door. I just turned and smiled, and held him at arm’s length.
Today, some years later, I often think of him and the possibilities of what might have been if I had given into my desires and his. It’s fantasy, nothing more. But let me tell you, I could have easily taken a wrong turn and there would have been no absolution for me. I sigh, and turn to other thoughts with my soul still intact.
Tags: absolution, abusive husband, anger, askcherlock, blue eyes, board meeting, board members, cars, Cher Duncombe, heaven, heaven or hell, long time, multitude, near misses, parents, parking lot, quiet laugh, radical priest, single mom, speed limit signs, spokesperson, streetlights, velvet voice, vicinity