the feelings that we experience when we are in love represent a normal
Lou the Bench Guy drilled four holes, and lined up the brass plaque to the wooden slat that ran along the back of the dark bench. Setting the plaques in place was a thing he did as part of park maintenance, and it happened more often during some times of the year than others. Christmas was big, of course, and June, for graduation. He’d attached marriage proposals and remembrances, farewells to New York from those who loved it and were leaving, and farewells to the planet from those who were leaving that.
This one was to a woman named Adrienne.
It seemed like a sad little plaque. Something that commemorated a lost love, or a passing. That was all right. The park was full of those.
Lou had been doing this for more than a year, and could center the little strip of brass without even measuring. The bench was in a nice spot. Though not so fancy as the area around the lake, or the pathway that wound near Belvedere Castle, it was a pretty little section of walkway. Most of them were.
Lou loved his job. He loved just doing it, to begin with, and he loved doing it well.
He firmly bolted the brass plate to the narrow piece of wood, gave it a little polish with a chamois cloth, and went on about his business. There were always things that needed taking care of, in Central Park.
Lou never met Catherine Chandler, and he certainly never met Vincent, or Father Jackson. But that didn’t really matter, for what was about to happen, later.
The bright December Thursday dawned crisp, clear, and full of winter white. A late night snowfall had hit hard, and finally stuck. As morning gave way to afternoon, the park was brimming with people, all wrapped up in cold weather gear, and out enjoying the day.
Half of them seemed like they were either gravitating toward the skating rink or having snowball fights in the common areas. Afternoon sunlight glinted on crystalline branches, and the atmosphere was undeniably cheerful. The first “real” snow. The snow angel makers and bob-sledders were out in full force.
Catherine didn't have that much time to play. But as an attorney with a ninety minute recess from court, she couldn't resist a stroll through the beautiful, white landscape. New York looked pristinely clean. (Not an easy thing for New York to do.)
Hats, scarves and gloves abounded. Women walked with toddlers who were firmly bundled into snowsuits. Businessmen in long coats ate a stand-up lunch and took in the glistening park. Each evergreen was wearing a cape of frosting, while all the deciduous branches were snow-traced to their bare, interlocking tips.
Catherine's boot-heels made a clicking sound on the salted concrete as she enjoyed the brisk December air. She was trying to stuff a file folder back into the side pocket of her briefcase when she noticed the man.
In a park full of people, he shouldn't have stood out, yet he did. Not because he was on the tall side, and certainly not because he was building a snowman (several people were thus engaged), but because he was building a snowman which was only a few inches tall, and setting it on the end of a park bench.
Seemingly content with the position of his cheery little creation, the dark-coated man took off one glove and set a kiss on his fingertips, then touched it lovingly to the brass dedication plate on the back of the bench. He then stood erect, slipped his glove back on, and settled his hands inside the pockets of his heavy wool coat.
For a moment, he stood back to admire his handiwork. He looked pleased. His position set him directly in Catherine’s path.
Catherine knew that Central Park was lined with thousands of benches, many of which had dedication plaques affixed to their backs. You could spend an afternoon reading them, and get nowhere near done. They marked anything from anniversaries, to the generosity of the local Kiwanis club, to births, and often, deaths. Marriage proposals could be found, as well as graduation announcements. The benches were like the rest of New York: they varied.
Catherine's brisk pace kept her moving through the spritely afternoon, and even though the sidewalk was crowded, there was room to move around him.
When an errant winter breeze whipped down the sidewalk, Catherine realized that her grip on the file wasn't as firm as she’d thought. Papers fluttered out of her grasp, in the chilly wind. Important ones.
"Damn it!" she swore, as the latest case she was supposed to be handling sent itself flying through the bright, chilly air.
"Do you need help, Miss?" the man who had built the little snowman asked, as Catherine began chasing papers. He was already picking up the nearest ones, as he said it.
"Yes, please!" she responded, as several other New Yorkers simply stepped around them. City life. "Don't get involved" was a mantra, for many.
"Only you have to promise me you're not reading them! They're supposed to be confidential!" Catherine bemoaned her bad luck as she snatched a toxicology report from where it fluttered near the edge of a hawthorn shrub.
As she was doing that, her companion bent to retrieve a deposition which should have been hole punched and fastened inside the file, but wasn't. Catherine silently blessed him for its rescue.
"It's all right," he said, handing her back part of her errant paperwork. "I know a thing or two about 'confidential.'" He tugged a blue scarf away from his throat, a little. It revealed a priest's collar, underneath. He then bent to snatch a thin yellow piece of paper off the ground, before the snow could ruin it with moisture.
"Shall we sit here, while you get re-organized?" He gestured toward the bench. His little snowman sat at the far end of it. The rest was mostly clear, since he’d used the snow on the seat to build his jolly little piece of handiwork.
"Yes, sure," she replied, smiling her thanks.
As she approached the bench with her own handful of papers, she noticed the inscription on the plaque he'd planted a kiss on.
Oh. Sad. They were the only words she had time to think.
Catherine’s Good Samaritan gallantly brushed any remaining snow off the seat, giving them a dry place for her to collect herself and her things. He took in her expensive black coat, patterned cashmere scarf, high-end boots, and tailored attire. "So, you're a business executive?" he asked, helping her settle her belongings on the bench.
"Worse. I'm an attorney," she answered, needing to sort through the papers to make sure she had everything. "Now where's that police rep-- ah, there it is," she said, beginning to reconstruct the file.
"I'd help you sort, but I'd have to read it, first. And I'm afraid your legal documents would be about as easy for me to pierce as certain Aramaic phrases in the Old Testament," he teased, as he handed her a 911 transcript.
He had a pleasant, deep voice, and a kind expression. She liked him, immediately.
After another moment of sorting, she closed up the file, tucked it where it belonged, and offered him her hand.
"Catherine Chandler. Lawyer in distress. Thank you for helping me."
He took her gloved hand in his. "Father James Jackson. Or, just Father Jim, if you like. I'm taking an hour off."
He had a firm handshake, and Catherine realized how much that went with the rest of him. Roughly sixty (if the grey in his hair and the crow's feet around his eyes were good indicators), he had broad shoulders to go with his tall, steady-looking physique.
"I didn't know priests took an hour off," she joked. "I'm lucky you were there. Or I'd have a judge mad at me and a client who wouldn’t be very thrilled, either."
That caused a slight smile. "I imagine we men of the cloth are a bit like you ladies of the law. We're always on call, but sometimes a short break is nice. Good for the soul.”
His affability made him seem very approachable.
I imagine that’s an advantage, in his line of work, Catherine thought.
“So. Police reports and a deposition. Not a corporate attorney, I take it, then," he ventured.
He was quick. And as he settled his back against the bench, Catherine could think of no reason why she shouldn't join him for a few moments. It was a beautiful day.
"No, not corporate law. Not anymore, thank God. - Uh... sorry, Father,” she blushed prettily.
He chuckled at her lapse. "Never apologize for thanking the Lord, Catherine," he smiled. "I do, every day. Besides, I'm temporarily off the clock, remember?"
They sat comfortably, and watched a little girl walking with her mother. "It's a beautiful day. First good snowfall. Do you think it will stick?" he asked, retreating to the safe topic of the weather.
"They say it should," Catherine answered, relaxing with him as she set her briefcase to one side and enjoyed the brisk day. They both watched the child eat a snowball, as she walked.
"So. Criminal law, then?" he asked.
"Mm-hmm. I work for the District Attorney's Office," she answered.
He took in her petite frame with a politely measuring glance.
"You be careful out there. I understand New York has some pretty mean streets in it. And I should know. My church is on one," he said, with a touch of sardonic humor. The crime rate in New York regularly made national headlines.
"It keeps me in business, unfortunately," she replied.
"Me, too," he said. "My confessional gets busy, some days."
Catherine enjoyed sitting with this man. He had deep blue eyes, and a long nose that had been broken, at least once. A once-firm jawline was giving way to age, but his chin still had a dimple in it, and the grey hair at his temples was the kind that made a man look more attractive, not less so.
"I bet it does," was all she answered.
A comfortable silence fell between them, and Catherine wondered about the inscription at her back.
"So. Do you think the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup?" he asked, turning to the other safe common subject between strangers: sports.
Her chuckle was immediate. "I don't follow hockey that well. But my boss assures me that they should. Every single year."
Father Jim smiled at that. “The Islanders might have something to say about that. Not to mention the New Jersey Devils. A team I can’t cheer for, on instinct. You understand.”
Catherine did, and grinned at his touch of humor.
"I saw you building the snowman,” she ventured. “At first I thought it must be for something for a child, because it was so small."
He fondly eyed his own creation. "Ah, but I take it you've divined by my occupation and marital status that I don’t have any of those of my own, and there are none with me, so that might not be the case. You're correct, my dear, this little fellow isn't for a child, though I’ve certainly no quarrel if a few of those enjoy him."
He paused as he considered the happy little bundle of snow on the end of the bench. Catherine saw a decision flicker in his blue eyes.
"I have a confession to make," he declared.
Catherine smiled. "I thought that was more your line of work than mine," she replied.
He lifted a greying eyebrow. "You're an attorney. On any given Sunday I'll wager you've heard more of those than I have. As long as we're not actually talking about Sunday."
Catherine continued enjoy his subtle wit. "If I have, you must have a small congregation," she replied. “The people I go after are usually not the confessing type.”
He inclined his head at that, the gesture looking so like Vincent's own, Catherine couldn't help but hold the smile.
"Sometimes, mine aren’t either,” he commiserated. “And several of them should be, considering.”
A skateboarder zoomed past them, risking frostbite, and the sound temporarily stopped their conversation.
“Yes, my church is small,” he agreed, once the distraction had passed. “Smaller now. Old neighborhood, kind of on the margins. Time is taking its toll, I think.” He shrugged his heavily covered shoulders. “Still, they're mine to care for. I'm their earnest shepherd."
"I'm sorry to hear that your flock is... dwindling," she replied.
He stretched out his long legs as he continued to relax on the bench. "Oh, it ebbs and flows. I don't mind if our numbers stay… manageable. If my flock has a virtue - and that's a serious word, in my business- it's that they're devout. Not perfect, mind you, but they're in there, swinging. I like that. There are worse people to spend your days with. Worse people to try and help."
Catherine couldn't agree more.
"Anyway, my confession," he prompted.
She looked at the dedication plate attached to the bench. "Is it about Adrienne?" she asked.
The priest chuckled at her archery. "You know, there are people who've known me for forty years who wouldn't have guessed that. Yes. Yes, it is. You must be very good at your job, young lady."
Catherine looked at the tiny snow sculpture that seemed to be waving at her with a twig arm. "I didn't have anything to distract me but what I saw. A man building a little snowman to sit on the bench, then a kiss to the dedication on the brass. And you’re James Jackson. J.C.J." She raised a well-shaped eyebrow. "The evidence was conclusive, Your Honor."
He laughed again, and Catherine found she liked the sound.
"Well, there you go, then. Back in the nineteen forties, when I was, er, considerably younger than I am now, Adrienne was the most beautiful woman on 57th Street,” he explained. “Hair dark as the secrets you keep at midnight. Eyes so brown a man could get lost in them, and not mind,” he said poetically.
He paused, a moment. “She taught me what love was, before either of us knew," he said, his blue eyes seeing a distant time.
Catherine’s expression softened. "She... passed away, I take it? I'm sorry," she said sincerely.
"Passed away?" he asked, a curious look on his face. She glanced back at the inscription, and his eyes followed hers, and he realized what her conclusion must have been.
"Oh. Oh, no, Catherine, Adrienne's not dead. Far from it. She's tough as a Roman soldier." The tone in his voice conveyed sincere admiration. "You should see her. There's just no stopping that woman. Brilliant. Dedicated. She was always an early riser. Up at dawn and hardly ever to bed. The other sisters at St. Regina’s would fall apart without her, though they're struggling."
Catherine blinked. "Other sisters? You fell in love with a nun?" she asked.
He laughed out loud, again. "I fell in love with a teenager, back when I was one, too. I wasn't born with a collar, my dear, any more than you were born with a briefcase."
Catherine chuckled with him. "My mistake."
But now she had to admit, she was curious. "So you really fell in love with her?" Catherine asked.
"I'm still in love with her," he qualified. "It's just that I so happen to love the Lord, as well."
Oh. A platonic, spiritual kind of love. Catherine thought. Well, at least that was--
"The summer we met, we couldn't get enough of each other."
Okay, not just platonic. Maybe.
“Did I shock you? I didn’t mean to,” he apologized. “Most people look at a priest and can’t see anything else. I don’t imagine that happens as much, with attorneys, though police officers assure me it’s the same for them, to some degree.”
Catherine blushed a little more. “No, I don’t suppose it’s the same for attorneys.”
“Truth to tell, I think I’m the better priest for it,” Father Jim said.
“Do you?” Catherine asked, still curious.
“Mm-hmm. Ever have a rutabaga, Catherine?” he asked, out of the blue.
Catherine shook her head in the negative. “Can’t say I have,” she replied.
“Me either. So if I told you that for the rest of your life, you had to give up rutabagas, well, I wouldn’t be asking much, would I? And for you, it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.”
“I suppose not,” she said, maintaining her smile at him.
“When a man who’s never been in love swears he’ll take a vow of chastity, well, let’s just say I’m not a hundred percent sure I trust the nature of his declaration, or the depth of his sacrifice, even if I trust that his assurances are sincere,” he reasoned.
Catherine inclined her head as she considered his wisdom. “I guess I see what you mean,” she said.
He glanced over at his miniature snowman. The smile on it was contagious, and it lifted the corners of his mouth to look at it. "But... well. Beauty that she was, once she heard the call, Adrienne was absolutely devoted to the idea of becoming a nun. We both knew it," James said.
"How ... sad for both of you," Catherine said, feeling it must be so.
Again, his expression was an amused one. "Sad? No, Catherine, I wouldn't say 'sad.' We both do love the Lord. This was always going to be my path, as well. We both found our way to where we knew we should be. We just... happened to find each other, as well, before we did that."
Catherine turned toward him in the seat as a pair of joggers loped by. "She must be a truly exceptional woman," Catherine said.
"Oh, she is." The deep regard in his voice was unmistakable. “She’s spent her life helping the less fortunate. She has a gift for understanding, for compassion. People are drawn to her strength. You’d have to be a fool not to trust in her goodness. I just wish..."
He sighed, as he looked off toward the New York skyline, rising above the snow-lined trees.
For a moment, Catherine thought the wish would be that they could be together, somehow.
"I wish I could help her, in some way," he said. "She has a material need, and I have a vow of poverty."
Catherine wondered if she was about to be hit up for a donation. Not that she minded, if she was.
"Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to ask you for money," he deflected, successfully reading her mind. "I'm afraid the amount is too large, at this point. Word is, they're all but done. Another month, maybe two..." His blue eyes tracked the westering sun. "When the homeless shelter closes, they'll all be reassigned to other places. Possibly out of New York. If that happens, she won't see my little... way of saying 'hello,' anymore."
Catherine looked at the small, cheerful snowman.
"This is how you communicate?" she asked.
He gave a slight nod. “For years, though only here, most recently. There really isn't any other way, not without raising questions. I'm afraid this little fellow is a bit of a sin, on my part. It's a way for me to tell her I still think of her, and wish her well. That I'm amazed by her work, and her dedication. That I wouldn't have things any other way."
Catherine's small smile was a bemused one. "How does she say 'hello,' back? Does she?" Catherine asked.
Father Jackson smiled. "She'll build another one right next to it. Come a warm day, they'll both melt, together."
Catherine thought about that lovely image, and the poignancy it carried.
"You know, there are people who argue that priests and nuns should be allowed to marry," she said.
Father Jackson shook his head. "She's already married. One does not tamper with a bride of Christ, Catherine. And she's happy there, and fulfilled, just as I am. I know your generation takes great pride in its liberated views on physical love ... but I'm afraid that perhaps keeps you from understanding that other kinds of love - and there are many of those - are just as fulfilling."
Catherine couldn't tell him she absolutely understood what he was talking about, without breaking any confidences.
"I...um... sort of know what you mean," she said, not wanting to reveal more.
"Do you? Well! Good girl!" he congratulated effusively.
“So… that’s your confession? You occasionally build a snowman to say ‘hello’ to an old friend?” Catherine asked.
He gave a longer sigh, a touch of wistfulness in the sound.
“It’s the secret of it that makes it wrong, I think. And there’s a bit more… Adrienne is a black woman, Catherine. We were both born late in the 1920’s. Back in the day, our even being together was illegal, in most states. In 1940’s that was a brawl all its own, and I’m afraid it was one we left other people to fight,” he admitted.
Catherine cocked her head to one side. “It must have been very difficult, for both of you.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Like I say, we both completely embraced who and what we became. But I won’t lie and tell you I didn’t wonder if I wasn’t a bit of a coward, as well. If this wasn’t the easier path.”
Catherine took him in, as she tried to find the right words. “I don’t know very many people who would agree that working in a poor parish or toiling in a homeless shelter was an ‘easy’ job, Father.” Catherine replied.
He eyed her back. “I don’t know that many who’d think the easiest use for a law degree is a job with the District Attorney’s Office,” he returned, giving her a bit of a grin. “Yet, here we are.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “Here we are. I guess I’m comfortable, if we’re thought … unwise, then,” she confided, knowing several of her old friends thought her just that. It was a thing she rarely spoke about.
“I guess I am, too,” he replied. “Funny thing about love. Spiritual, physical, familial, emotional. The kind you have for some… job, or some hobby you embrace, or a special place you know, or … something else. So many different flavors, for each of those.”
“There are that,” Catherine agreed.
“There’s the kind of love a mother will have for her child, which I’ll never know, not the way she will. But I’ve known so many other types, and each of them taught me more about the others ones.”
He watched a couple strolling hand in hand. Or in this case, mitten in mitten. They both looked unbelievably happy.
Catherine watched them walk past, and saw the girl smile as she saw Father Jim’s snowman. When she shared the smile with her companion, he gave her a quick kiss, and they kept walking.
Father Jim clearly approved. “I wouldn’t trade any of the loves I’ve had, Catherine, nor wish one away.” They both eyed the couple. “If I had a wish for my fellow man, it would be that they could experience more of those different kinds of love, every kind of love, if that were possible. So that they could better understand what love is, and how every kind feeds every other kind.”
Catherine smiled at his generous spirit, as her opinion of him escalated.
Hadn’t meeting Vincent, and becoming part of his amazing world taught her much the same thing? That love had many forms, and each was a compliment to the other?
“I can only say ‘Amen’ to that, Father,” Catherine replied. “I think you’re very right.”
“So. Do you think I’ll be forgiven, for my little man over there?” he asked.
Cathy couldn’t help but smile at their frosty companion. “Father Jim, there may be those who would disagree, but… well, let’s just say I have a certain fondness for secret messages. That I understand why those are important, sometimes.”
She regarded him seriously, for a moment, as she further considered his question.
Father Jim found he rather enjoyed her clear-eyed scrutiny. She looked both thoughtful and kind. He noticed how serious, and intelligent she seemed. She looked as if she was considering his case with the all the sobriety of a judge, and perhaps linking it to the understanding she’d referred to.
“I don’t think you did anything you need to be forgiven for,” she concluded.
He inclined his head, in acceptance of her judgment.
So, that was his “confession.” Was she supposed to offer some kind of … what? Absolution, now? Some words of advice, or wisdom? Catherine wasn’t sure. “I declare that to be in love is a higher calling all its own. Now, go forth, and… um… keep hoping for a miracle, for Adrienne. It sounds like she deserves one,” the beautiful lawyer said.
“I promise you she does. Sister Beatrice, now.”
“Sister Beatrice,” Catherine amended. “You have to keep hoping that things will work out for the best, no matter what happens. You can’t give up that hope.”
“No, indeed. That would be a sin, in my line of work,” he replied.
“Can’t have you here confessing twice in one day,” she said. They both chuckled at that. In front of them, a group of teenagers commenced to building a snow fort. It looked like fun.
“How about you?” he asked. “Anything you’d like to share with kindly old Father Jim, here at the Church of the Park Bench Confessional?” he asked good-naturedly.
Catherine shook her head. “That I’m not Catholic. But that if I were, I think I’d be making a beeline for your church. You do seem very kind, and understanding.”
“Thank you for that,” he replied, as he re-tightened the indigo scarf around his neck. Sitting still was causing them to feel the bite, in the December air.
He checked his watch, then rose. Catherine checked hers as well, realizing that the time had flown.
"It was a pleasure to share my bench with you. You won't tell the Archbishop that Father Jackson is sending love notes to Sister Beatrice, will you? Remember, confessions are sacred." He smiled as he offered his hand in farewell.
As she took it, Catherine was struck by an enormous temptation. The temptation to go to Father Jim's little church, rap on his door, and use his confessional a little, for herself. It would be nice to be able to tell someone. To be able to share the secret she carried, and the burdens that accompanied it. She knew she never would. But she realized what a luxury it would be.
"I'll not say a word," she promised. “Consider me your attorney. We're not allowed to reveal confidential information, either."
"Attorney-client privilege? I like that," he chuckled, sliding his hands back into his pockets.
"Things with the sisters. They're really bad?" Catherine asked.
Father Jackson nodded. "Bad as it gets. The property values in the area keep climbing. Someone wants to knock down the building and put up apartments. We're all praying mightily, for a miracle."
"I hope you get one," Catherine said sincerely, turning to go.
They’d walked no more than a few feet apart when Catherine felt compelled to turn back around and say something more.
“Father … Jim…”
He turned, thinking she might have a confession, after all.
She looked absolutely beautiful, standing in the brisk afternoon air, her briefcase clutched in one leather-gloved hand. The breeze that could alternate between brisk and soft was playing with the ends of her sandy hair, and her small, slender form looked mighty, somehow, with her booted feet firmly planted on the sidewalk. She didn’t have Adrienne’s dark beauty, he realized. But she certainly had a beauty all her own. One that lived on the inside, as well as the outside.
“The love you spoke about… the notion that there is more than one kind of love, that you can have one, and it may not be what people think, or what anybody else would find ideal, but…” she bit her tongue to keep it from wagging. “I just wanted you to know. I have that. I understand it. At least, a little.”
“Do you?” He asked. Catherine got the impression her statement was being measured.
Catherine simply nodded, as they continued to face each other.
James Jackson sized her up with the skill of a man who’d spent almost forty years in the priesthood, seeing humanity at both its depths and heights, and sometimes, from behind a confessional screen. He faced Catherine Chandler now, on a Central Park sidewalk, and he knew he admired what he saw.
There’s a real strength in her, he realized. A warrior’s strength. Both her own, and… someone else’s. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s something she’s had to have faith in. But she’s trying. Trying to find her way, and doing good, as she does that.
Maybe she’s a bit like Adrienne, after all, he concluded. Maybe that’s what her love is giving her.
“That’s good, Catherine,” he said sincerely. “That’s very good.” He took his hands out of his pockets and made the sign of the cross, as he blessed her.
“May your love continue to bless and guide you. May it be a source of light for you in all the years to come. May it help you to find every kind of love there is, that you may share that with others. Go in peace.”
He inclined his head as she did the same, in acceptance of his kind words.
“You, too, Father,” she said.
With a smile of farewell, the two parted company as they walked off in different directions, Catherine back toward the courthouse, Father Jackson back in the general direction of his church.
They were two ships that had passed in the winter of a bright afternoon.
A day later, the little snowman had a companion. A hard freeze kept them both on the bench, together. Their stick hands were almost touching, and the smile on the second one was an echo of the first. They looked innocently overjoyed to be in each other’s company.
“Sister Beatrice, what about the kitchen?” Sister Anne asked, fretting, as she was wont to do. “We can hardly take thirty pounds of potatoes with us.”
Sister Beatrice was not one to quibble. The eviction notice was all but a fact. This would be their last full day, running the shelter.
“The poor will still come for a meal, Sister. Tell the others to grab a good knife and start peeling. We’ll have them boiled, mashed, and in soup. And au gratin, if there’s enough cheese left in the refrigerator.”
“Our last day and night.” Sister Anne held her friend’s hand. Tomorrow, they would close the doors for good. The bishop would come and collect what little treasure was still sitting on the altar, and they would get their re-assignments.
“I’m so sorry, Sister Beatrice,” her longtime friend added.
Sister Beatrice gave her well-meaning companion a hug. “If it’s Chicago, that won’t be so bad for you. They say the Bears have a good defense.” She tried to cheer up Sister Anne, knowing her friend was a football fan.
“Oh, how can you try to make me laugh at a time like this?” Sister Anne moaned. “This is our home!”
Sister Beatrice simply inclined her head as far as her wimple would allow. “Home is where our Lord sends us, Sister,” she said sagely. And though she said it, a secret part of her wished she could just be Adrienne, again, with Adrienne’s problems. Just for one day.
Closing this refuge for the needy would be hard. Very hard. She was trying mightily to put a good face on things, and stay cheerful.
I’ll miss Jim.
It was a sin to even think it. Or it could be. At nearly sixty years old, Sister Beatrice wasn’t sure, right now. She’d said “hello” to him in one odd way or another for nearly forty years. Once a year or so, just a little gesture, between them. Sometimes not even that often. Some winters there wasn’t enough snow, or other concerns bore each of them away, for a while.
He was a good man. A noble man. A man who’d told her “I’ve decided to enter the priesthood,” at almost exactly the same moment she’d found the courage to tell him “I’ve decided to become a nun.” They had a special friendship. She admired how hard he worked to shelter his flock from the ravages of the times, and of the city. No one had more compassion than James Conrad Jackson. No one. Of that, she was certain.
And though she loved Christ with her whole heart, she knew that once upon a distant time, that heart had loved Jim, as well.
Sister Beatrice went to her room to collect her kitchen gloves. If she was going to have her hands in cold water in December, peeling potatoes, she wanted those hands covered. They said the wind in Chicago could give the wind in New York a run for its money.
Ah, well. Again.
The cheap rubber gloves normally sat in one of the drawers in the kitchen, but with so much of the shelter already cleaned out, Beatrice had put them in her bag, already.
She passed by the little area that served as a schoolroom. A cracked chalkboard had the day’s lesson on it, and Sister Agnes was reading “Jonah and the Whale” to a small group of little ones. They were warm. They were fed. Their parents were both out looking for jobs.
We’ll have to box up the books as well, soon.
Perhaps those too, would be redistributed. Or, given their age and condition, perhaps just dumped in the refuse bin, their special magic lost, forever.
God, thy will is hard, the still-beautiful black woman thought sadly, reaching the narrow cell that was her room. She began searching for the rubber gloves that would save her dark hands from chapping. Would just a small miracle have been so much to ask for?
But it wouldn’t have been a small miracle, and Sister Beatrice knew it. Not unless a number with six zeroes after it could be considered “small.”
“Heavenly Father, please help me to serve your purpose with a glad heart, even if I don’t understand it, right now,” she said aloud, as she found one glove and rooted around for the other one, in her already-packed bag.
“Perhaps Sister Beatrice has perhaps not done enough. But… for Adrienne, who has never wished for anything but to know your will… please,” she said, locating the glove she sought.
She zipped her case closed, no longer sure what she was even praying for. The Bishop had even gotten them a special dispensation to stay, if the money could be raised. It just hadn’t been.
The area wasn’t wealthy enough, the shelter not “important” enough. The people who used it obviously weren’t the city’s elite, nor did they have access to the area’s movers and shakers. Other property developers in the neighborhood had wanted the shelter gone long before this.
And now their time was all but up.
The Reverend Mother guessed they would probably end up in either Chicago or Detroit, where there was a pressing need. Sister Agnes dreamed of Florida, or anyplace warmer than New York, in winter. Sister Jeanne was too young to have roots here, so she truly didn’t care. Sister Anne loved New York, and swore she’d met Joe Namath himself, once, while collecting for the needy in the Bowery.
It was with no small amount of vanity she said the famous quarterback had famously “guaranteed” a Super bowl win, thanks to her good wishes and prayers. Sister Anne admitted she had to guard against vanity, that way. It was a grievous sin. But they all knew she hoped she’d be reassigned to an area with a good football team. Or two of those, like she had now.
Sister Beatrice knew that projections about their fate were all just so much speculation, gossip and nervous chin-wagging, at this point. It was a thing she had little time for. There was work that needed doing, right now. There would be no news about their new assignments until tomorrow, the day after at the latest. The Monsignor had promised he would do his best. It was in God’s hands, now.
Sister Beatrice allowed herself the luxury of a sad sigh. She knew she would hate to leave. For all its Spartan facilities, this was home, and good things were done, here. Families were helped. Children were schooled. Empty bellies were filled and a clean, safe place was had to sleep, when the weather got too harsh or rent money was too dear. Prayers were offered up. Counsel was given. Hope was given, and given freely, and with love. Sister Beatrice believed in love. In all its many forms. It was a lesson Jim Jackson had helped her to.
No one who needed to use the shelter stayed for very long. It wasn’t that kind of a place. But everyone who came through the big double doors needed to be there. Of that, Beatrice was certain.
Pulling on her gloves, she tugged at the rubber cuffs firmly, and retraced her steps back down the hallway.
Suddenly, the Mother Superior of all commotions began erupting, near the foyer.
“Sister! Oh Sister Beatrice!” Sister Anne nearly shouted, as she ran down the narrow passage. “Come see, oh youmust see! Our prayers! They’re answered!”
“Sister Agnes is assigned to Florida?” Sister Beatrice knew there were so many prayers being offered up at the moment, it was a bit difficult to sort them out.
“No, no, come! Come look!” Sister Anne was tugging on her gloved hand, pulling until the pink kitchen glove was simply yanked off.
“Sister, we must get to—“
But the word “work” died on her tongue, as she looked where Sister Anne indicated.
It was as if King Midas himself had set his fortune before the door.
A trunk sat there. A rather large one. It was old, and fairly battered. It looked like second-hand leavings, save for the fact that it was full, utterly full, of gold, silver, shining diamonds, and other precious gem stones. A silver cup sat on top of a ruby bracelet, and a shower of coins sat beneath that.
“What in the name of heaven…” Sister Beatrice gasped.
It was an absolute miracle.
The sisters tugged the chest inside the door, Sister Beatrice afraid the handle would pull off, from the weight. It held. Another miracle.
It seemed this was the day for those.
Several of those gathered made the sign of the cross, and began to give fervent, even tearful thanks.
“Oh,thank you, Lord,” Sister Beatrice said, still utterly amazed. “For whatever… miraculous kind of love brought this … this incredible abundance to our humble door. Thank you.”
Both for me, and for Adrienne.
She gave another silent prayer of thanks for the salvation of the shelter she called “home.”
“Sister Anne… tell them all to unpack,” she declared, rising. “It seems as if the good Lord, in his perfect wisdom, has decided that we are staying, after all.”
There are as many kinds of love
as there are hearts.
No matter where you are in your
own fairy tale, I wish you love.
Author's note: There really was/is a "Lou, the Bench Guy." (Louis Young, from Birmingham, Alabama, originally.) He's the Central Park employee responsible for mounting almost all of the plaques on the benches, and it's likely he affixed the fandom's plaque, as well. He has worked in Central Park for over thirty years. He is so well thought of, a bench was donated to him by a woman who admired his work.
I found that out when I was doing a little research on Central Park benches. (So, next time you're in New York, swing by and thank Lou!)
Illustration supplied by the author