Tap, tap, tap! Father Paul jabbed at the blank piece of paper with increasing staccato force. Jab! The page stayed blank.
In disgust, he threw down the pen and stood up and walked to the double pane windows and looked out. The trees bent and swayed in the afternoon wind, the last lingering leaves hanging on tenaciously. He brushed his unruly bangs out of his eyes once again and they immediately fell back into the same place. He folded his arms together and stared out.
As the newest parish priest, young Father Paul had some big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Father Lee had recently been kicked upstairs to a much larger church, with a bigger, more established and wealthy congregation. Whenever they had cause to get together to share mass for the holidays, Father Lee was positively leaking bonhomie, good will and enjoyment of life in his new, more comfortable surroundings.
Father Paul couldn’t really complain. This was his first promotion to head priest at this largely immigrant parish church with its tiny, cramped rooms, worn out facilities and a nave so small it could hardly hold the throng of Pilipino parishioners that pushed in every Sunday.
“Ah, well,” he sighed to himself, “here I am wondering about how well I’m doing when it’s questionable how many of them speak English and understand anything I say!”
Father Paul was no stranger to doing time in the trenches. He had spent three long, hot years in the Philippines and one wonderful year in Australia. Apparently, he had impressed the higher ups with his abilities and had been transferred to this small, poor parish in the city. He knew that if he just did his job diligently, to the best of his abilities, the nicer, fancier parish offers would eventually appear.
“I just have to get through this part,” he thought to himself, “and by the way, that damn homily!” This was Friday and he was completely out of ideas for the Sunday Mass. His writer’s block was blooming into panic.
He was about to turn away from the window when his eye was drawn to the one last little brown leaf stubbornly clinging to the tree in front of his window.
“The wind,” he snapped his fingers, ‘that’s it!” he almost shouted. He ran over to his desk and pulled out his Old Testament reference manual. He paused for a moment and looked up. “Thank you, Father,” he said with quiet sincerity.
Dan, a thirty-eight year old construction superintendent, was balancing his huge frame on a little metal folding chair. He was also balancing a blue Big Book in his lap trying hard to concentrate on what he was reading.
Successful in most areas of his life, Dan had never been academically inclined, but had managed to scrape by in high school. After two years of college, he managed to get his coveted General Contractor’s license. Dan valued this license very much. Also, Dan’s wife-Cecile, two kids, bank officers, his Mom, Dad and various friends and relations all valued Dan’s license too, along with his prodigious ability to make money. Dan’s innate good looks, easy manner, and charm helped to land many housing contracts that afforded his wife and kids the life they had grown very accustomed to.
Cecile’s brunette beauty queen good looks were the perfect complement to Dan’s 6’2” rugged build, blond hair, blue-eyed, Viking self. Ten years after they were married, Cecile was still very much a looker and when she turned those big brown doe eyes on Dan with disappointment written on her beautiful face, his heart just broke. He couldn’t let her down with this drinking thing, he just couldn’t.
Dan sweated under the bad florescent lights in the shabby AA meeting hall and tried hard to stop mentally replacing the horrible brown carpet with a higher-grade brand.
“Just focus!” he thought viciously. He wiped the sweat from his brow. “This getting sober is the shits,” he mumbled through gritted teeth.
Dan read out loud about Bill W’s experience of meeting God and it how it felt like a great mountain wind blowing through him.
The lady next to him whispered that is was the wind not of air but of spirit blowing. “Heavy,” thought Dan.
The next Sunday, some miles away in another section of town, Christine McCarthy was getting ready to go to Mass. She could do a lot with her long red hair, she had a bunch of it. The rest of her was a bit more of a challenge.
Of Irish ancestry, Christine was tall, skinny, with pale white skin, freckles and unfortunately, a big nose. A little past the comfortable middle of middle age, Christine resembled, in profile, the Witch of the West. The nose combined with a pronounced chin needed a lot of expensive cosmetics to soften.
After doing her very best with bottle and brush for an hour, she knew it was as good as it was going to get this side of a Hollywood makeover. She picked up her purse and did one last glance at the hall mirror. She was looking forward to hearing Father Paul, the new priest today, even if she had to drive a little farther to that tiny church. She liked him and he was kind of cute. She almost thought there for a minute that he was a little taken with her.
“Oh, no,” she laughed at herself, “a priest, never!” Shaking her head, she went to get her car.
Later, Father Paul did deliver.
“And a whopper too,” Christine thought. He had delved way back into the Old Testament to discuss their interpretation of the word ‘wind’ and its being the visible sign of the presence of God, almost like the moving finger itself.
“Thus, it is with the symbol of the wind, a fundamental event in the revelation of the Holy Spirit: ‘And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house where they were gathered [with Mary]” (Acts 2:2),’ quoted Father Paul.
Also, “We must also note that the wind symbol, as an explicit reference to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s action, belongs to the language and doctrine of the New Testament. In the Old Testament the wind, like a ‘hurricane,’ is the expression of God’s wrath (cf. Ez 13:13), while the ‘tiny whispering sound’ speaks of the intimate nature of his conversations with the prophets (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12),” he went on. The very wind itself can be seen as a sign of God he told the congregation.
“Wow,” thought Christine, “this Father Paul is the goods!”
Six months had passed since the sermon and Christine, in addition to being a regular church goer, was also an AA old-timer and had been asked to speak at a meeting, an invitation she gladly accepted. Christine was definitely between boyfriends – way between and did everything in her power to increase her public exposure.
“You never know,” she thought to herself, “when the next He might be listening.”
It just so happened that Dan was in the audience that night with six solid months of sobriety under his belt. He had gotten past the sweaty, bright light and loud noises phase. He was almost able to concentrate now when one of the speakers was talking.
Dan got his coffee and said his hello’s and sat down to listen to Christina speak. She talked about her life, her former singing career and her aspirations to return to the stage. Dan was touched, he was moved. He sat there, crammed in between other big, hunky, sobering up drunks, absorbing her every word.
It was at that moment, when something swept over him like a strong, what?
“What?” He sat grasping. “Like a strong wind, yes, yes, that was it!” A strong wind: he heard what she said and he understood and understood her feelings at that very moment. It was a complete epiphany moment. For the first time in his life, this good-looking, selfish, pampered, self-centered guy had complete empathy for someone else. Wow! He couldn’t believe it. Incredible. He realized he was having a spiritual experience.
After the meeting, Christine was surrounded by well-wishers telling her how much they liked her talk. Dan couldn’t get through to thank her and had to inch his way forward. He kept glancing at the big clock, his ride was due to leave and he couldn’t be late.
Finally, he got close enough. “Hey, can I get your number?” he burted out to her.
Christine gawked, she had seen this guy before at a distance at meetings, but, up close, what a looker!
“Sure,” she fumbled and grabbed a piece of paper and scratched out her phone number. Snatching the paper, he thanked her quickly and ran off.
She stood staring at the back of his retreating head before getting caught up in the babble of member’s voices again.
Later, Dan was careful to compose his text to Christine. He was still new to this AA thing and wanted to get it right. He told her how much he had enjoyed her talk and how much he really wanted her to have everything she wished for. He sent it to her phone.
Christine stared at the text message a long time. She read it over several times. She had no idea that she had made such an impression on him. Besides, he was so much younger than she was. But, what the heck! Age was just a number and if he didn’t care, well, neither did she! Three days later, after thinking it over carefully, Christine sent back a very warm message to Dan thanking him for the kind words.
Things continued to progress with Christine and Dan over the next few months. They would exchange the odd text back and forth, always regarding some AA matter or other. They would also see each other at meetings and Christine found herself, almost unconsciously, gravitating toward those meetings where Dan was a regular attendee. Dan for his part was forever grateful to the AA old-timer who had helped him with his newfound understanding of others and their feelings. This was especially true with his wife, Cecile, who had often in the past accused Dan of being insensitive.
In solid AA fashion, Dan attended an all-men’s meeting and kept personal remarks about his wife to that meeting and shared more generic, general stuff at the mixed meetings.
Christine for her part was getting foil treatments on her hair to increase glossiness, Botox in the forehead to reduce wrinkles and buying Victoria Secret super-gel bras to increase volume and lift. She was also looking for blouses with increasingly lower front cuts.
The happy day arrived for Dan when he was about to turn one year sober. Dan was happy, Cecile was thrilled, his parents were delighted and nothing would do but to crank out the all-weather BBQ set in the backyard and throw the first ever summer celebration of Dan’s new found sobriety.
Dan and Cecile published a flyer to invite ‘everyone’. Dan made sure to place one firmly in the hand of Christine with endearing words about how he really wanted her to be there to celebrate his day.
Christine almost blushed. Instead, she rushed home, checked her closet and decided she did not own one thing sexy enough for a day-time BBQ. She grabbed her purse and headed for the mall.
Three days later, with a new flouncy hairdo, teeth cleaned (and whitened) at the dentist, fresh polish on nails and toes, she surveyed herself in the full length mirror. “What do you think?” she asked Frisky her dog. He seemed to like the get up. The outfit was a slinky blue-green top and pants set that was close fitting and looked good on her lean frame. It actually brought out the green in her eyes which was really why she bought it. “Frisky, the whole enchilada cost me a small fortune, but he’s worth it right?” Frisky looked thoughtful.
Christine found the place, address clutched in her hand, nestled deep in the burbs with kids, cars and dogs everywhere. It was clearly the right address because of all the cars parked up and down the street. She walked in the front door which was half open, displaying a clutch of colorful balloons.
She grabbed a diet coke and started making the rounds of the gabbling AA’s filling up the house. She preened and pirouetted as person after person complimented her new outfit. She was of course waiting for the perfect moment to make maximum impact on her boy. Just as she was turning to go out to the pool area she was greeted by a delicious brunette pushing a large plate of canapés in her face.
“Try one, they’re great!” The brunette twinkled and smiled at the other guests as they walked by. “You must be Christine.”
Christine had popped a tasty morsel into her mouth when the young woman said “I’ve heard so much about you, I’m Dan’s wife, Cecile!”
The morsel caught in Christine throat, and she almost choked. She started to cough. Cecile looked alarmed and cried “Fred, Fred, some water please!” Fred, a guest, a look of alarm on his face, grabbed a glass, splashed some water in it and came running.
“Oh, oh, are you okay?” Cecile was patting Christine on the back. Christine grabbed the water and gulped it down.
“Thank you, thank you,” she gasped. “I’ll be ok,” as she waved away the concerned Cecile. She took a big breath. “See, I’m okay, fine really. I’ll just go use the bathroom a mo….” Christine escaped down the hallway into the first tiny loo she could find.
She splashed some water on her face. “The hell with the makeup,” she snarled at her own image in the mirror. For a minute she rested both hands on the cool ceramic and stared at herself in disbelief.
Collecting herself, she slowly and softly opened the bathroom door and stepped out. Speaking cheerfully and in as normal a voice as possible, she made her way casually and quickly out the front door and fairly trotted to her car, wiping the tears away as she went.
The next Sunday Christine was back in church wearing flat black shoes, black tights and a plain black synthetic fiber dress. Her hair was in a knot at the back of her head and for makeup she was wearing lip gloss. She clutched her rosary beads in one hand and her little prayer book in the other.
She was listening very hard to Father Paul talk about the necessity of forgiveness of others.
Christine sat very still and listened, not moving a muscle.