This week’s installment of the IndieInk Writing Challenge was submitted by Jen, who asks me to write a conversation between two strangers. I’m not particularly adept at throwing dialogue onto a page and having it flow, but therein lies the benefit of practice. My challenge this week fell to Nicolette.
For the third consecutive night, a man sits in the back of a church listening to chorale music soar into the rafters. He looks on the verge of ending it all, which worries some of the cathedral’s residents, who collectively agree that a church is no place to die. Enter from stage right a tall man in black with a white beard framing what appears to be a permanent grin. Sliding into the pew in front of our mysterious Eeyore, our intrepid clergyman says …
’Hello,’ came a muffled reply.
’I don’t mean to be nosey, but you seem vexed and I was wondering if there might be something I could do to help.’
’Well’, said the man, ‘I’m not catholic and, frankly, I’m inclined toward not believing in your, um … employer. So, I’m not sure if I qualify for your ear.’
’HA!’, ha’d the priest. ‘It’s your lucky night! You don’t need to be catholic to occupy my time. I’m just visiting some friends here.’ Then leaning in closer and becoming more animated, whispered, ‘I’m actually a Jesuit. We enjoy thinking critically and wallowing in science. We find listening to the problems of alleged heathens to be endlessly enlightening! Our ilk tend to give mainstream catholics gas! So, please. Speak.’
Heaving a great sigh, the man sat back in his pew and relayed his story. ‘My business partners are in the process of blackmailing me. The three of us had always been close friends. The nutshell version of the story is that success came quickly and I was the pragmatic one. The other two played fast and loose with the money, both ours and the clients’, and I called them on it. They didn’t like my ethical take on things, were unimpressed by the boat being rocked, and have gathered lawyers onto their side in an effort to dredge up my most minor indiscretions and turn them into major ones for evidence as to my being unfit to continue as a partner in the firm.’
’Hmph. And how are you responding?’
’I have my own lawyers, but they tell me that unless the stuff that they’re saying about me is demonstrably false, I’ll come across as quibbling in arguing for my side of the story. An exaggerated truth still involves the truth on some level. Such is our legal system.’
’Indeed.’ The priest looked toward the choir and for a moment, let the music fill the silence. ‘Vespers are lovely. I was told that this church invited a choir from Russia over to give a concert of Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil. The words were, naturally, all in Russian. There were people, members of the church, who actually complained that they didn’t enjoy it because they couldn’t understand any of the words! They were provided written translations, but still chose to complain about what they’d heard. Or, rather, didn’t hear.’
The man had closed his eyes. ‘I don’t even listen to the words. I come here for the music. I can’t explain why it’s so comforting and I doubt I’d figure it out even if I knew the words they were singing. There’s just something about … this’, he said, opening his eyes and raising both hands toward the open church and the choir at the far end of it. ‘I feel utterly hopeless. I walk around every day seeing others getting on with their lives, happy, carefree, while I struggle to understand why my life is falling apart. It just seems so unfair, so arbitrary. But somehow this’, arms up, sweeping widely, ‘takes the edge off.’
The priest looked at the man and nodded his head. ‘Yes, yes’, then looked down at his hands and hesitated before continuing. ‘Long before I became a priest, I found myself in a situation where I was accused of something I hadn’t done. I was ultimately acquitted, but saw that many people chose to continue seeing me in the light of what I’d been accused. It’s often easier to see and believe the worst in others, maybe in order to distract us from acknowledging the worst in ourselves. It was painful and unfair and I, too, lost hope. But I can tell you that it was only in losing hope that I found its meaning. And those other people that you see daily,’ he said, leaning closer toward the man, ‘how do you know they’re all happy and carefree? Do they know what hope is? Do they feel it? And if not, do you envy their ignorance? I learned who I really was by enduring adversity and it served as the beginning for every good thing that’s ever happened in my life. But I can only speak for myself and with the great benefit of hindsight. For my situation, Shakespeare was right: What’s past is prologue.’
’It’s difficult to see this as a beginning to anything’, the man replied. ‘I feel like I need to make sense of it in order to move on. Otherwise it’s just fate being random in its violence.’
’It isn’t always necessary to understand something in order for it have meaning in our lives. I don’t understand God, but I know why I believe in Him. I don’t understand Russian, but I know that Rachmaninoff’s Vespers are beautiful. I’m not sitting here trying to sell you on the concept of belief, but I do hope that you’ll have enough faith in yourself to learn from this and take away from it a better feel for who you are and who you aren’t. I know it’s painful, but pain is a great teacher and can be the greatest of blessings if we allow ourselves to learn from it. Don’t ever let circumstances dictate your life.’ Rising from the pew to take his leave, the priest stretched and said, ‘I’m afraid I must now return to the heady work of annoying my colleagues.’ Extending his hand toward the man, he added, ‘Don’t give up on yourself or the world. If you do, they win.’
Taking the priest’s hand, the man replied, ‘Thank you, Father. I’ll try to start working on the prologue.’
Sir @ April 7, 2011