Before I could gain my wife’s consent, I was already out the door. The individual walking down the busy corridor stopped near the elevator bay. When I caught up to him, I jerked him about by the shoulder.
“What’re you doing here?”
The gentleman twisted toward me, bewildered. It took my brain a second to register the white collar around his throat.
“I-I just administered Last Rites to Mrs. Gentry in Room 330. Are you family?”
Immediately I felt foolish. “Oh, I’m so sorry. My mistake, I thought you were someone else. Please forgive me.”
The priest smiled warmly. “Of course. That’s kinda my gig,” he said. “Is everything all right? You look a bit spooked.”
The redness in my cheeks started to wane. “Stress. You know how it is.”
“Need to talk to somebody?” he offered.
No, not after almost assaulting him. “I couldn’t impose my problems on you, Father. It is Father?
He extended a bony hand. “Father Sterling,” he said. “Or Ted. That works too. I have some time to kill, if you want. I’m known to be a good listener.”
“I’m not Catholic,” I conceded.
“And I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying the occasional pierogi.”
He further tried to allay my concerns. “If you’re embarrassed about sharing your feelings” — Sterling spied an empty room across the hall, into which I followed him — “I can make this feel more like a confessional.”
He set two chairs side by side at the foot of the twin beds then slid the privacy curtain between them. Taking a seat, he motioned to the second chair on the other side of the cloth partition.
I sat beside him, feeling a little out of place as I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts.
“I’ve never been the religious type, so all this seems a little — ”
“Superfluous,” I said. “Haven’t stepped foot in a church since I was twelve. When I was a kid I had no choice in the matter. My parents raised me in a very strict denomination.”
“Seventh Day Adventist.”
Mine had been a childhood fueled by fear of the impending END OF DAYS, a Chicken Little existence where every news item became unfolding Biblical prophecy and critical thinking was treated as blasphemy.
“Say no more,” the priest said. “As for your faith, I assume — ”
“It didn’t take.”
“I see.” Those same damn words, even spoken in a similar tone to Doctor Langston. I could hear the judgment in his voice. “But you at least believe in God?”
“I think there’s something larger than us, call it what you will.” My hands were folded on my lap as if in prayer. “If He does exist, I don’t think He cares what happens here. To Him we must look like bacteria in a petri dish.”
“You have a mighty impersonal view of the universe,” Sterling said, “very nihilistic. Is that what’s troubling you?”
“No, something else. Days ago I had an experience I cannot pretend to understand.”
“What would that be?” he said. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. Where to begin? I started with a question of my own.
“What do you believe?”
“That Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, died on the cross for the sins of mankind. I believe God has a plan for every person on this planet.”
“On this planet,” I said. “See, that’s the rub. Does Christianity take into account other forms of life?”
“I don’t follow. What type of life forms?”
“Beings not of our world,” I said. “Perhaps from beyond the stars.”
Surely not the kind of question a man of the cloth was asked everyday. He gave it some thought and said, “The Bible speaks to a host of superior beings, a complex hierarchy of angels who dwell in the heavens.”
“No, I mean . . . I mean . . . ” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Aliens? Little green men? Extraterrestrials? They all made me sound equally insane. “I don’t know what I mean anymore. I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing for which to apologize. Doubt tests every man.”
I stood to draw back the curtain. “I can’t do this,” I said. “You’re just doing your job, and I appreciate that, really, but this isn’t working for me. I can’t — ”
“You can. If you have faith.” The priest reached into his pocket and produced a business card. The name on it said Father Theodore Sterling, St. Sebastian Parish. “My door’s always open, if you reconsider. The address and phone number are right there.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“It was nice meeting you, Mister — ”
“White,” I said. “Derek White.”
**** **** ****
Jared Sandman’s Blogbuster Tour 2011 runs from July 1st through August 31st. His novels include Leviathan, The Wild Hunt and Dreamland, all of which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. His next book, The Shadow Wolves, will be released in August.
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