I’ve been different all my life. Some, I suppose, was my own doing; some not. For example, when I was an altar boy in St. Anthony’s in Revere MA we had a rank structure. When it was time for me to upgrade from my wooden cross to the silver one, I accepted the promotion, but not the cross. You see, it went like this. When you started you had no cross, then wood, then silver, then gold, then Seminary. Interestingly enough, I entered the altar boys because I wanted to be like my brother Anthony.
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We never really had many gold crossers. One that I can remember. So, together Anthony and I studied the Catechisms, the Beatitudes, Saints lives. You name it we knew it. I’ve never really liked people, even as a kid. I volunteered to set up the church, clean it, anything to stay there. The church we went to was truly majestic. Imported Italian marble everywhere. What wasn’t marble was velvet or gold. The only thing that wasn’t… gilded was the massive cross at the apex of the altar. It was a huge wooden crucifix, and looking at it once you’d taken in the entirety of the church, beckoned the song “One of these things is not like the others…”
Exactly. That was exactly how I felt in this world. I always have. Alone, small, sorry. I had friends, of course, but the things I had had to study made me that much more different. I was being bred to either be a priest or a doctor. Never asking what I wanted to do with my adulthood. After some thought though, I figured being a priest would be best. Living in the South of France, secluded in an abbey, translating ancient texts. Nothing better.
I wanted to use the gifts I’d obviously been given to help people. Ironic because I never liked them! I saw…too much too early?
I saw the news of John Lennon being killed. My father took me to see the film Ghandi in the theatres, also the Killing Fields. I’d read the Bible. Stories of Samson and Delilah, Moses. All of it.
But those stories never really sparked me. The Saints were what did it for me. Catherine of Sienna, Francis of Assisi. Francis in particular.
It seemed to me that he didn’t like people much either. He was a lover of animals, so was I. He loved peace, so did I.
So when the phone call came that Anthony had died of a heart attack the memories came flooding back during the airplane flight. He’d changed for the worse, and so I’d shunned him. He’d become a slave to making money. Ever since he got a taste of the internet boom of the 1990’s, while I was away in the Corps, he’d been different.
‘Sir, may I help you with your bags?” She had kind eyes, and seemed to mean to be helpful. That’s one thing I’ve never liked. People that offer help, but don’t mean it.
”You sure can young lady, but only if you marry me first!” I smiled as the ol’ fox still lay in wait somewhere within me. I might not like them but I sure can charm them.
She threw her head back laughing, not at the prospect but because it was funny. She had pretty yellow hair that curled around her ears. She was the kind that was pretty without makeup.
“I’ll have to think about it Sir, I might not be able to keep up with you!” She was blushing.
“Well, don’t think too long love, I may not be here tomorrow.”
Boston has changed. I came for my father’s funeral, left because of the vice I saw everywhere. Greed, sloth, envy, more greed. My head couldn’t take it so I’d moved to the mountains when I was thirty-three.
Thirty-three… the critical year. For if I were to do something that would be one of the finest years to do it…alas there were other plans for me.
No loner was Boston a cluttered mess of strong sea winds and brownstones. Well, the brownstones were still there and so was the seabreeze. Something had changed though. It wasn’t as crowded as I remember. I wanted to go to Salem. I wanted to go to St. Anthony’s.
“Now boys… PAY ATTENTION.. thank you. If you have questions during your studies please ask because the only stupid question is…?
“The one that was never asked” We all said in drone unison.
I had questions, and since neither my Dad nor Anthony could answer them, Father Conte was the man. He was in charge of not only the altar boys but also the choirs! Yeah, he was a busy guy. Young, kinda handsome I suppose, but above all he was nice. He loved and protected us all. I still owe him a debt I could never repay.
“Father, if we’re more dependant on the material world, and not God doesn’t that manifest in material greed?”
“Yes…” He hesitated, probably knowing the follow ups.
Struggling with the box of candles, and trying to keep up with him I said,
“and the closer we get to God the less dependant we are on the material things?”
“Then why do we start with no cross and move ultimately to gold, the most precious metal of this material world, shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
He stopped, and I banged into his backside.
“Robert” He stooped to look me in the eye. “Your nine years old. Where did you read these questions?”
“I… I didn’t. I was just thinking about my studies, and you said to ask any questions, that the only stupid ques…”
“Questions like the ones you’re asking have no business being in a nine year olds’ mind. They remind me of Martin Luther… do you know who he was?”
“No father.” (Not yet I didn’t anyway)
“Well he was a great scholar a long time ago, and he had similar thoughts as you. The difference is that he had these thoughts after much more study than you’re doing right now. He was a monk. All he did was study.”
“I know that’s what I want to be…”
“I’ll tell you this. In time all things are revealed to the seekers. That’s what you are, so’s Anthony for that matter. But… I tell you what. Give me that box and go ask him.”
His hand wafted toward my friend hanging.
So majestic he was, my friend, sooo…awesome.
“I … I don’t want to bother him with stupid questions Father, I…”
“The only questions that’s …”
“Stupid is the one that goes unasked”
So, with my new found bravery I approached my friend with reverence and humility.
“Jesus? Jesus are you there?” The words from my soft small voice were swallowed whole by the recesses of this place. I waited. “He’s probably busy…”
While I waited my thoughts drifted to my friend, and the stories I knew. I got up and walked the stations of the cross, past the military formations of candles, prayers of believers. They were symbols of the circle of life. For that candle would eventually burn out and die.
Jesus is scourged
“Hey wait a minute! That’s my friend. I … I wanted to stop them. He didn’t do anything to you! I wanted to take his place. Let them hit me, he’s my friend! That’s what friends do. Oooo such hatred in my heart when they hurt my friend. The… the pain was so real. Here I was a kid in a church in Revere Massachusetts in the United States, two millennia after the fact and.. I felt the pain? Was I crazy? Too empathetic? I flopped onto the floor and cried my eyes out. I crawled to the altar, ignoring the pain of the marble floor on my knees.
I looked at him. “Why? Tears streaming to the red velvet, “why would you let them hurt you so much? Why would you let your Ma watch it!?” As I said these things to my friend I could see something through the mired sight of teary eyes. A light, soft and hazy like a firefly in the distance,
“because I had to…”
“What!? You had to? That doesn’t make sense!”
My friend was tortured and killed, in front of his ma, because he had to. At least that’s what he told me. These… these fucking people killed my best friend so long ago and it hurts me now to think of it. For when I think of it… I’m there.
My anguish died down after a while.
During one of my forced solitude bouts I had gotten into looking at the sculptures on the walls. Id’ started learning about Leonardo Da Vinci, and Rennaissance art methods. He looked so sad. Jesus did. He always looked so sad to me. All of the paintings in this church, and the sculptures, he’d always looked like he knew something they around him did not. Yeah, I’d say I identified much more with the person of Jesus than any other I’d ever met.
“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with meeee.
Let there be peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to beeeee.”
That was going to be the song I chose. As a soprano in the children’s choir we were once tasked with choosing a song. Any song, the choir would arrange and perform it during the final ceremonies of a Mass one Sunday. I chose REO Speedwagon’s “I can’t fight this feeling”,
The plan was great. The choir and the pipe organ was arranged to make such a beautiful melody, all that was left was for me to nail it. The final practice came and I knew the song inside and out. Since it was a dress rehearsal we were in the choir loft proper. Dressed in our gowns, and I was at the fore. Right at the balcony, and I never made it past the first verse.
“…cuz I feel so secure when we’re together, you give my life direction, you make everything so clear..”
I looked at him the entire time. Singing to the fireflies I saw in his eyes. And his head moved. He looked at me, and smiled! No sad eyes looking off in the distance, he saw me and smiled at me.
I lost it right there. I fell to the floor crying my eyes out. The practice stopped and I suppose everyone thought I was crazy as a loon. In my heart I was the happiest I’d ever been. I couldn’t finish the song, and I did not perform for the Mass.
I’ve a gift, I’ve many really. No one asked me if I wanted this. The things I know… it’s all too big, it’s all too much. I can’t do it. The things I know are being asked of me… I can’t do them.
“Sir? Sir? Are you alright?” My future bride had noticed I had tears welling in my eyes.. well ok they were falling. I lied…again.
“Just thinking about my brother, he died ya know.”
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry Sir.”
I looked into her eyes, she was a sweet child. Truly and in her heart. I was old enough to be her grandfather… yet in another time.
“ÁY!!! Are we goin’ or what? Meetah’s runnin’ gramps!!!”
She shot him a look that shut him up and made me fall in love with this child of the light even more. I cupped her chin with my withered hand, my thumb caressing her high cheek.
”You be good and think about it ok?”
“Always, and I will, you have a good day Sir.” Her hand was warm against mine.
The door shut and off we sped. Another thing I never liked about Boston. Everyone’s always in such a damn hurry.
“Where to Pops?”
“Saint Anthony’s in Revere… do you know it?”
“Ya my kid got baptized deah”
There were no more marshlands along this road. No more saltmarshes that smelled like beer farts to reflect the sun’s dusky red goodbye to the world. Around the circle, almost getting hit, past the tittie bar, the bank was still here.
Wow, so is the dogtrack!
The small nightclubs that used to dot every other block of Revere were no longer. One or two that I could see, but mainly it’s cell phone stores and car rim stores. Never liked talking on the phone much so I would never get one and bring a damn phone with me!
I paid the man, and got out. He sped off to his next destination.
This building’s not so much gothic, but not so much Italian villa.
Happily it’s up the street from the beach so the scent of the ocean’s salt mixed very nicely with the burning wood, and the chilly sea breeze. It’s as though your nose approves by leaking.
There were no cars in the huge front parking lot, but during our suicidal drive through I’d seen a few on the side. I went to the main doors.. Dammit. Locked. I looked to the left, and the few stairs down to the Rectory seemed daunting. Nice! Someone had the foresight to put a ramp on this side of the stair too.
“How courteous.” I thought.
The Rectory was where the priests lived, and it was a bit more humble than the church itself. I rang the bell, and was greeted by a young lady. Once I gained entry, and told her who I was, that I’d wanted to pray at the altar and light a candle; she seemed apprehensive.
The secretary told me that the Church was closed at the moment but if….
I waved that off and asked to speak with the Pastor. Mine, when I was a kid, was Father Veneto, a true lover of pomp and circumstance. The midnight Masses when I was a kid were breath-taking truly.
He came and was a jocular looking fellow.
“Sir, how can I help you my son?”
“I want to light a candle for my brother Anthony. We were altar boys here, and he’s died.”
Again with the lies, I could care less about Roman Catholicism or my brother… I just wanted to see my old friend once more before I left this place.
“Of course! They’re five dollars, and Mindy can take care of you…is that all Sir?”
“En Via con Dios”
I chuckled and said, “I always have.”
We had to pass through the Baptismal font’s room to get to the Church proper. The names of donors, no doubt many trying to buy their way into favor, lined the marble walls. Ohhh Mr. Martin Luther, what brass balls you had. The font itself hadn’t changed either, and that was good. A massive urn of marble topped with a golden dome. Beautiful. Excessive, but beautiful.
The huge doors of the main aisle’s entrance were unlocked for me.
“There you go, just let me know when you’re done so I can lock it back up.” And with that Mindy took her leave.
I slowly and gingerly opened to door. I hadn’t smelled this place in decades. And it was as though I’d blown back to my childhood. The size of the massive pillars that lined the side aisles. The wooden pews.
As I walked down the aisle I saw a small figure at the altar. At first, the light from the huge chandeliers did not glare their garish wares on me. The choir’s loft above shielded me. I continued down the red velvet carpet. The acrid incense that promised sweetness to the tip of the nose, and betrayed the trust granted in the back of it. Lining the walls to the flanks were St. George and the dragon, Catherine of Siena, Francis. Basil. All my old friends were here. All smiling, except Michael who was ready for battle.
And there he was.
“Not changed a lick I see.” I said aloud. Too loud for I scared the young boy that was kneeling and praying.
“I… I … uhm I was praying! Honest.” He hurriedly stammered.
“Me too.” I replied. He was a handsome kid. Sharp jaw, inquisitive eyes, innocent face. A good soul.
“What are you going to pray for Mister?”
It took some doing, but my old knees wanted to work this time, so I took advantage of their agreeable attitude.
“Dunno son. I think I’ll just sit and talk with my old friend.” This seemed to put him at ease some. So I spoke more aloud.
“I used to be an altar boy you know.”
“I AM one!!! I’m going for my wood cross this Sunday. I’m praying that I make it.”
He didn’t seem too confident.
“You’ll be fine, trust me. But, what have you done to deserve it?”
“Well… I won tickets to a Celtics game but I gave them away to a kid that’s in the hospital in Boston.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He has leukemia, but he’s an even bigger fan than I am! So I gave them to him.”
“Very nice son, very nice indeed.”
I looked up to the hanging man. I smiled.
“Hey old friend. It’s been a long road and you’ve definitely not made it easy.” Floods of the people I’ve known through my life came to me. Good, bad, indifferent.
“Í tried…” I said aloud.
I saw a soft light in his eyes, as I’d always seen along with the sadness of knowledge. But it was growing brighter…
I heard a soft and loving laugh then I heard
“I know… it’s time my old friend.”
Tears welled again, darkening the red velvet beneath my knees.
“Mister!!! Mister!!!” My young friend, one hand on my back the other on my shoulder trying to pull me away from the floor.
I’ll go get help!!! You stay there!”
I rolled on my side, “oh my God this hurts.” My chest was burning from the inside out. I reached to my throat and pulled the rope that my wooden cross had been attached to.
I handed it to him, the young boy, and he ran off. In my eyes he’d earned his wooden cross.
I looked to my old friend, and the light that was once soft was now beaming.
En via con Dios
And so I did in death what I’d done in life.