He wasn’t someone I had funny stories with from when we were kids, He wasn’t someone I could reference in a best man speech, and He wasn’t someone I could hold.
Any history God lays claim to is not his. I have history with my church, my priests, my fellow churchgoers. Anything that does exist is shared only with flesh and blood people, concrete figures who weren’t miles above in the sky, immortal, or all-knowing.
And yet, here I am.
I mount the stone steps, feeling my heart pound against the thin folded envelope nestled in my breast pocket.
There is a feeling I’ve been trying to shake ever since I got that letter in the mail: helplessness. For the first time in years, I need divine intervention. And that thought—that base, instinct feeling—chills me to my core.
“Father?” The heavy doors swing open, unlocked. “Father Beckerson?”
“Albert?” He walks toward me, closing his book and leaving it on the pew where he had been reading. “When did you get home?”
“Just today,” I say, my words quick. “Listen, could you—” I cough, and press on—“would you listen to a confession?”
His eyebrows, thin and dark, inch up his forehead.
“With me?” I ask. My hand wraps around the back of my neck unconsciously. “Now?”
“Of course,” he agrees after a moment, his brows knitting together.
Courage, Albert. I remind myself, silently. Courage.
The first confessional I’ve inhabited in over a year smells of wood, a healthy dose of guilt, and the perfume of whoever had last used it. I can’t smell Father in the compartment next to me. I can’t see him either. I kneel, staring straight ahead at the deep mahogany of the structure.
“Albert?” The Father speaks up first, unencumbered by our surroundings.
“Father Beckerson,” I say. My knees are beginning to ache.
“Is there something on your mind, or do you simply happen to enjoy kneeling on the inside of a wooden box?”
“Who says I don’t enjoy it?” I say, shifting my weight.
“Imagine your mother hearing that,” He says, offering a small chuckle. “Al Krasinski, enjoying confession.”
“Not quite,” I correct, words coming more easily now, “Al Krasinski, enjoying kneeling on the inside of a wooden box.”
“I’m not entirely sure which would be more surprising.”
“The confession, probably.”
The wood creaks as he leans back in his seat, and I can hear the knowing smile in his words when he says, “In that case, do you have something to confess?”
I fall back to silence, my knees harmonizing with the groaning of the old wood in the quiet. I think through my laundry list of sins, avoiding the letter and the helplessness that followed.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you be quiet for this long in one sitting before, Al. We can have a conversation when we’re not inside a box, too, if you need.”
This is it. Now or never. I suck in a deep breath before saying, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a... ” I have to pause and think. “... year since my last confession.”
“Alright,” I hear shifting of his robes, telling me he’s crossing his arms. “A year?”
“My first sin, I guess. I’ve been—busy.”
“Busy?” He’s prompting, but his voice is not unkind. It’s steady, as constant and strong as the mahogany that surrounds us.
“You know,” I run a hand through my hair. “Bloomsburg, school, graduation.”
“Well, in that case, congratulations are in order.”
“Thanks.” The stock answer leaves my lips before I’m even aware of it. I mean, at this point, it seems a little bit like graduation backfired on me.
“So, while you were busy, did you have a relationship with God?”
It’s the first solid question he’s asked me since we started talking, but I don’t have a solid answer to match it.
“There’s that silence again,” he says.
“What can I say, I’m consistent,” I say.
He sighs again, longer this time. It’s thoughtful, and he doesn’t speak again. The quiet becomes a waiting game, one that he’ll definitely win.
“No, what?” he asks, readily.
“I didn’t have much of a relationship with God,” I confess. “My second sin.”
“Are you counting? This isn’t algebra,” he chuckles softly. “It’s not homework, it’s your life.”
“I’m done with homework,” I remind him.
“And with God?”
My heart skips a beat.
“No—” I say quickly. “No. I think—” I hesitate. If there was ever a time to need God, now is it, but— “I think I’m just beginning with God.”
Father leans back in his seat again. I can hear it in the small grumble from the confessional, which is older than me.
He waits again, playing the same game as he always does. I accept my defeat, and continue,
“I need Him now. More than ever.”
My chest rises and falls quickly, and it’s like there’s a weight sitting on me, an issue that I can’t wash my hands of in a five minute confession and three Hail Marys. This isn’t a problem I can pass off to a higher power, it’s not something I can give to God and forget.
“You need Him now, specifically?”
I’m silent, nodding in the dark and alone.
“That’s not a sin, Al. We all need God.”
“This is—” I stop myself. This isn’t different, not that different. But it feels different. It feels personal, complex, as though once I say it out loud, it’ll become publicly simplistic. While it stays tucked away in my breast pocket, it’s mine alone. There’s nothing and nobody in the whole world that can do anything about it, least of all myself.
From the way his voice drops at the end of my name—my full name—I can tell we’re about to be done beating around the bush. No more waiting games.
“I will sit here as long as you want to, but this confession is feeling increasingly one-sided.”
It’s open season now.
“I got mine in the mail last night,” I say. My voice is hushed and in serious danger of breaking. “I knew it was coming. I’m not married. I’m not in graduate school. It was a matter of time.”
I take a steadying breath. You’ve come this far, Krasinski. This is cake, compared to what’s coming. “Father, I just need—”
The door to my back swings open, and soft candle-light filtered around me, lighting the mahogany a rich red. Protocol of the highest order has just been broken, and Father Beckerson doesn’t look remorseful in the slightest.
I stand, slowly, my knees cracking. Father gestures to the nearest pew, taking a seat with his elbows resting on his knees as he sits forward. Unspeakingly, I reach into my pocket and produce the envelope.
“I have eighteen days to report to MEPS.”
“Son,” He starts, but before he can say anymore, he trails off. Is there nothing to say? No words that can wash this away?
“You aren’t the first person to come to me with this,” he says at last. He shakes his head, not at me, but at the floor. His voice is nearly throbbing with gravitas when he says, “And I doubt you’ll be the last.”
Just like that, all the wind is taken out of me, every last breath.
He shakes his head again.
“Look—” I turn to face him. “Just—put a word in with the Big Man, would you?” I don’t like the waver in my voice. “It might go a long way.”
Father Beckerson nods, his eyes on the ground. A part of me wants to grab him by his black collar and shake him until he can give me some platitude, some words from our great God above, but most of me just wants to go home. For the first time in my entire life, I don’t have an excuse to defer. For the first time in my life, I need God.
“Have courage, Albert,” He says, finally. “That is your greatest strength and God’s greatest gift. Have courage, accept what’s coming, and,” he looks at me, the thin eyebrows drawn together, “give them hell in Vietnam.”
I nod slowly, my heart beating red-hot against my ribcage. Courage, living and breathing within my chest, a gift from the people. A gift from God.