Sunday, October 19, 2008

Behind the curtain

Today we return to the horror story of the bees. Remember the bees? They have been getting worse and worse.

During the night they are no problem. They sleep on the ceiling. To tell you the truth they have never seemed aggressive. They have big bodies and they just kind of amble around the way we Buffalonians do. But sometimes they get extremely industrious. They buzz all over the bedroom, ricocheting off the curtains and windows and ceiling. That was the situation today when I got home from Mass. Nice of Howard to leave me with this, you know?

I decided enough was enough. I went downstairs and got this can of Raid left over from a few years ago when we had the great fly infestation. I do not like even saying those words, "great fly infestation." It is like something out of the Old Testament.

The Raid ran out before I could fill the room with mist, the way you are supposed to. That was a problem. Ideally you hold your breath, you finish spraying, you run out of the room, leave it shut for 15 minutes, come back in and the bugs are dead. Now I was stuck with a half-finished job. Some of the bees were dying. You could hear them hit the floor. But here is what was awful: Most of them were hanging in there. I could not let them go on like that so I grabbed a New Yorker magazine and started beating at them. They still hung on! They were crushed and mangled and they still kept buzzing and flapping their legs and trying to get up. Wow, this got depressing. It felt like Kristallnacht. Plus I was breathing in all this Raid. I started to think I would die before these bugs did.

The battle ended with my New Yorker in tatters and me carrying the half-dead bodies of the bees into the bathroom in great wads of toilet paper and flushing them down the toilet. Just what I want to do after receiving Communion, come home and beat a herd of small animals to death.

And I had been feeling so holy, what with my prayers for St. Gerard's being answered and all!

Well, I am going to cheer up by returning to the supernatural, as we have been doing every day this month. Today is Sunday so we have an especially good topic.


Don't you just love the word? Confession is a sexy topic and everyone wants to talk about it.

When I went back to Confession last spring after an absence of about 15 or 20 years all my friends in the office wanted to hear about it. Lapsed Catholics, practicing Catholics, non-Catholics, everyone. They all wanted a blow-by-blow account. I told Leonard Pennario about it, too. We used to talk about Catholic stuff.

So here is what happened to me. It is a good story, especially the part where it turns into "The Exorcist."

The other day I told how I started going to the Tridentine Mass. When Holy Week rolled around I began getting a yen to go to Confession. It was like this mystical thing that I was afraid of, but something made me want to do it. Also, I felt I should. I was actually thinking about this stuff for what seemed like the first time in my life.

But where would I go to Confession? When? I wanted anonymity. I did not want any priest who was going to recognize my voice seeing that I had all kinds of dicey things to divulge, not the least of which was that I was this loser and had not gone to Confession since I was a kid.

I decided on St. Michael's. I had the idea the Jesuits might be easy on me. Here is another odd thing: My friend Michelle, when she went back to Confession last year after years of not going, independently made the same decision. She also decided on St. Michael's, for that same reason. Her father was there when we were having that conversation and he just laughed at us and shook his head. He said the joke was on us because the Jesuits are the toughest of all.

But I did not know that then. I went calmly ahead with my plan. I chose a day and an hour. And I went all by myself. I dressed up: stockings, heels, pearls. I wore my best long coat and a hat. Then I got in my Crown Vic and drove downtown. It was a clear, chilly, sunny day.

This being Holy Week there was a line for the confessional. I got into the line. Then the man in front of me -- he was chewing gum, which I thought was odd -- told me the confessional on the other side of the church was open.

"Why isn't anyone in line on the other side?" I whispered to him.

"People want to go to this priest," he told me. What was wrong with the other priest, I wondered. But I crossed over anyway, and went to the other confessional. I was starting to think: this is going to be a trip whichever way I do it. It doesn't matter who gets me.

There aren't doors on the confessionals at St. Michael's. There are long, very heavy, midnight blue velvet curtains. I had forgotten how to tell for sure if no one was in there so I pulled the curtain aside just an inch or so. I couldn't see anything. So I stepped in and knelt down in the darkness. The kneeler squeaked. My heart was pounding.

The window slid open. The faceless priest said something: it must have been a blessing, though I was too nervous to retain everything. I started off on the script I remembered from grade school: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was ... I don't remember," I said. "It was a very long time ago."

"How long?" the priest said impatiently. He sounded really old. "Five years? Forty years?"

I could see why everyone else was going for the other priest. "Twenty years, I think," I stammered. I was starting to cry. That is the way I respond to stress. Once I cried at traffic court fighting a speeding ticket. But that is a story for another day.

The priest asked me why it had been so long. I said -- you guessed it -- I didn't know.

"Do you go to Mass?" he asked, as if he was trying to figure out what in the world he was dealing with here.

"Yes," I said, distraught. "I've always been a Massgoer."

"What brought you back here today?" he asked me.

"Well, I started going to the Latin Mass, and it got me thinking a little more about things, and--"

The priest said: "The grace of God has brought you back."

I knelt there stunned. I didn't know what to say. The priest took charge. I was in his world now. He told me I could start in on my sins. Which were legion! I have to say I wound up discussing an awful lot that I had not planned on mentioning. Although I was having problems talking. I was half in tears through this whole thing and had trouble keeping my voice steady.

I do not remember him interrupting much. But after a while when I stopped talking he made a kind of speech. He said: "Well, I think what we have to do here is bring your life a little more into alignment --" I remember that. As if I were at the chiro. Then he went on talking, giving me specific advice. I wish I had a tape of it because I was in too much of a daze to catch everything. What amazed me was that it was clear he had been listening to everything I had told him. Oh, and he gave me this penance, which was really small, two Hail Marys, something like that.

But here is where it got wild.

At the end of Confession you have to say your Act of Contrition. He told me to do that and luckily it came back to me: "Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee--"

And the priest began talking too, at the same time. I am sure I never remember that happening before. When I was a kid, you said your Act of Contrition, the priest listened, he gave you your blessing, that was it. This was, honest, like "The Exorcist." He was saying something different from what I was saying and it was not in any modern language.

Whatever he was saying, I got an overwhelming feeling that something supernatural was going on. It felt as if something was being drawn out of me and this priest behind the window was taking it in. It was exactly like "The Exorcist" except thank God, my problems are not as bad as the kid's problems were in that movie. I do not think they are anyway. But something was going on, and whatever it was, it was real. I got that prickly feeling the way you do if you think you see something you cannot explain.

When I ended my prayer the priest stopped talking too, and then he blessed me. I was such a basket case by that time I couldn't answer. But when I was pushing the curtain aside I managed to gasp out a thank you. He said, "You're welcome."

Then I had to sit by myself in a part of the church where no one could see me so I could pull myself together.

The moral of this story: Confession is sure wasted on little kids! You have to go back as a grown-up to see what exactly is going on in there.

And even then you are not quite sure.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

Your account of going to confession after years was similiar to mine. Except I didn't have the part in there about the Latin Mass.

And, yes, he too, started mumbling some prayer that I couldn't quite figure out. I didn't know whether to stop talking or keep going. Of course, keep going, as we were taught, won out.

Don't you feel like you have a new lease on life though, when you leave??

ahhhh..... remind me I need to go to confession again soon. It's been...too long--- again.


Anonymous said...

Oh--- and I forgot I wanted to comment on your bee dilemma. I hate to borrow trouble, but it sounds like you have a hive inside your walls. I just read something about that issue at this time of year in older houses. They need to remove the hive, or you won't get rid of the problem.

Emily was coincidentally doing a science experiement on bees for this national competition. The week you first talked about them in your blog, I laughed, because I had just gone through heck to get in contact with a beekeeper who would be kind enough to give me 30-40 bees for her experiment.

I finally found a guy who was willing to meet us at his hives way about 45 minutes away. I had to have Emily drive home with a big plastic pretzel tub full of bees on her lap. He told us they'd be pretty angry after the ride home, so they'd need to settle down.

If only we had known a tub-full-o-bees was only a 7.5 hour drive away in Aunt Mary's bedroom!!! WE could have killed two--- bees--- with one stone!!! arr arr

Love, Margie