“Excuse me?” asked Henry.
“How long since your last confession?” repeated the raspy, time-worn voice from the next men’s room stall.
“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”
“Yes, my son.”
Henry shifted uncomfortably on the toilet seat. He suddenly felt trapped in this tiny stall that stunk of Friday night drunkenness and piss knowing that he had business to take care of with a potential loony in the next stall. First of all, stall-talk in general was not within his comfort zone. He valued his privacy too much. Secondly, either this guy was joking or he was dead serious, and joking would be the lesser of two evils.
“Ha ha. That’s pretty funny, but it you don’t mind–”
“Would you like to pretend that I’m joking? Because we can do it that way if you like. It’s up to you, my son.”
Dead serious it is.
“Listen, I don’t know what you’re up to over there, but I just want to take care of business and get out of here. So, if you don’t mind–”
“Most men who come through here are hesitant at first. I completely understand.”
“Look, I’m not even Catholic.”
“Neither am I,” he replied.
“And I haven’t been to church in years.”
“Hehe…and this certainly isn’t a church.”
“Yeah, no shit. Pardon my French, Father–er, or whatever you are.”
Although a little incense wouldn’t hurt right now. Jesus Christ!
“Look, you may never have this opportunity again. I’m offering you 100% anonymous confession. I don’t know you, you don’t know me. It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done or who you are. What matters to me is that you find absolution…if that’s what you need.”
“I’m doing just fine. I’ve managed to make it this far without confession or absolution or whatever.”
But he wasn’t fine. He knew he was lying to the man, perhaps even to himself. His marriage was in the crapper. He had few friends to talk to. He was on his way to becoming a divorced, lonely drunk . As he sat in the restroom of his favorite pub, five whiskeys down, little to lose that he wasn’t already losing, the weight of his sins began to materialize out of the fog of the emotionless stupor he’d been living. His heart sank. His eyes welled with tears of pain and regret. As crazy as it seemed, he decided to play along.
“Ok, listen,” he spoke in tones hushed and strangled by rising emotion, “I’m not sure why, but I trust you. So how does this work?”
“Simple, you tell me what you’ve done wrong. And I offer you forgiveness and a penance.”
The words did not come immediately. He began to draw them together from images and deep longings and deeper regrets. He spoke for the first time about the affairs and the constant stream of lies he’d been living with. His fears of his daughter becoming like the women he was using, or worse…
that his daughter would grow up to marry a man like him, a man like his father.
Dad. Dear old dad. It’s no wonder I turned out this way.
The music and chatter from the pub vibrated the walls around him. There it all was, hanging in the air around him, the stench of his sin and pain and struggle, and the source of it all.
All the old painful memories of his neglectful, womanizing, drunken father who he had not seen or spoken to in twenty years came rushing make to his consciousness, and a vow formed on his silent lips. I will NOT become my father. It’s not too late. I WILL NOT become my father.
“My son, are you truly sorry for your sins?”
“Yes! Yes I’m so sorry. I am so sorry, Father. But what can I do? Tell me. What do I need to do?” he pleaded.
“Go home and beg for forgiveness from your wife, before it’s too late. And if she is still willing, let her help you. Do whatever she says to do.”
“And make me a promise. When you’ve gotten your life back together again, I want you to take a turn on the other side of this wall. Hear someone’s confession, just like I’ve done for you tonight. And then offer them forgiveness. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, Father, anything. I’ll do it.”
And then the words that had never meant anything to him before, pierced his very soul.
“My son, you are truly forgiven. Go in peace.”
you are truly forgiven
He did not know until this moment how much he needed to hear these words. He knew he didn’t deserve them, but somehow he was receiving them anyway. And for that moment, he truly was at peace. His mind was clear. In sharing his heavy burden of pain and guilt and shame and wrongs, he could see new possibilities. Like a tiny flame lit from the kindling of dead twigs on a cold night, hope was born in his heart.
“Thank you, Father. Thank you.”
Quickly, he washed up, and left to pay his tab. As he headed for the exit he glanced back to the men’s room for a moment, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unlikely priest . And as he did, he saw an older man emerging. Even in the dim light of the smoky pub, he could see tears glisten in his eyes. Henry stopped and stared hard. Through the tears, through the wrinkles, and through twenty years of absence he recognized him.
The man he had just this night called Father, was the man that he had once called Dad.
And in that moment Henry knew, that this could not have been a chance meeting, and that this was not just about the sins of one man, but two.