I was born and raised Catholic. I was also a born and raised stretcher of the truth. The two don't really seem all that connected, but like everything else in my world, they are.
As a kid you really couldn’t believe a lot of what I said. Living in the average middle class wasteland, I just really wanted a story that would make me stand out from the crowd, a beacon of hazy coal dust light in my boring old town. Whether it was some exotic vacation I was about to go on to spend my days lounging pool side with servants (small town prairies.. my grandparent's pool and my Gramps playing the role of servant), a road trip to an exclusive farm with horses that celebrities come to buy (rural prairies... my aunt's farm. One time a singer from the obscure 90's group Farmer's Daughter looked at one of her horses), I loved telling, and more importantly, creating, tall tales.
|9 year old me. A dance photo.. not the way I customarily dressed.|
Reconciliation is traditionally the third sacrament celebrated by a kid born in to the Catholic Church. The first, and the one most of us can’t remember is Baptism, followed by First Communion (i.e. the little bread pieces Catholics eat at church) in about Grade 2, and the piece de résistance, Reconciliation in Grade 4. I went to a catholic elementary school in my small town. We had mass in our school gym once a month, and were even given the opportunity to have the sacrament of Reconciliation bestowed upon us in the back office of my school library.
Reconciliation might be the thing that us Catholics are best known for. In movies you will see us enclose ourselves into a weird little phone booth, and confess our deepest, darkest sins to the priest behind the screen. Then the priest tells us how to ‘reconcile’ our sins, provides guidance for the future, and forgives us the aforementioned sins on behalf of the big guy. He gives us penance to complete, like saying sorry, or a few Hail Mary's.. that sort of thing. Let me assure you, in today's Catholic Churches this is done more like a therapy session and less like.. well like a diabolical conversation between the mystery man behind the screen and the sinner on the other side. Cinematically, I can understand why they chose to film the latter. However, after your First Reconciliation, which takes place in grand ceremony at the church, most of us Catholic kids settled for the once a year reconciliation that was provided for us at our school, like I said, in the office at the back of the library.
As anything in elementary school, this was a big deal. At recess we talked about what sins we were going to say, and ran to each other after the big reveal to retell absolutely everything that was said, and exactly what our penance was to be. Well, at least I did. See, as a bored, totally average kid my sins were pretty mild. As we all started sharing stories I realized that even my worst sin, telling my mom to shut up after she had already walked out of the room and was for sure out of earshot, was utterly boring.
Other kids were stealing things, and tasting alcohol, and sneaking out of the house at night.
How could I be so boring??
I knew that shortly after recess I would be called. The confidence with which you knew the order of things in elementary school was fantastic. I was an “H” last name, so I knew I was right behind Chloe*, and in front of Nathan.
Chloe came from the bad side of town. The apartments. Somehow dubbed smurf village, the kids that lived there certainly weren’t experiencing the same kind of middle class existence that I was. She was on the list of kids my parents always said “No” when I asked to go to her house after school. So, naturally, in my creative little mind I had all kinds of explanations to my parents decidedly negative opinion on Chloe’s house. I just knew that she probably had pop on a school day, probably got to watch TV past 7, even if it had a warning on it, and was probably allowed to help herself to all sorts of sugary delights whenever she pleased. My horrible parents didn’t want me to see what life was like on the other side.
I second guessed the imagined life I had made for Chloe when she came out of the office. Chloe’s face didn’t really look like a kid who was living the 9 year old dream. Like only a 9 year old can do, I put that out of my mind as I marched towards my reckoning.
I took a deep breath, made a vow to myself that I would not sob through this entire procedure as I had the first time, opened the door and sat down.
There was Father Abello sitting in an office chair, in front of stacks and stacks of books on the back desk, looking every part the keeper of secrets.
As I sat down and he said hello, I started crying.
Crap, now I thought damn it and that probably wasn’t good. BUT on the upside I did have another sin to confess to now. Cussing.
After he reassured me that it was ok to relax, and get myself together, I started talking. It felt like a dam had been released and I confessed every sin I could remember.
Reading my sister's diary with my cousin and kissing her Joey McIntyre posters when she wasn't home.
Eating 4 oreos and telling my mom it was only 2.
Taking three quarters out of my brother’s stand to get candy at a hockey game.
Picking up the used pull tickets at a hockey game and putting them in my pocket. Wait. That wasn’t a sin? I clearly needed a better explanation on how that all worked but I really thought my hidden stash meant I had a chance of winning. OK strike that sin from the record.
Then it happened. Before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, like an out of body experience I had seen on Unsolved Mysteries, I heard and witnessed my 9 year old self say this:
“And I haven’t been practicing my figure skating like I should be”
Um, ya. I wasn’t in figure skating. I never had been.
I had just lied to a priest.
Oh my god this was bad.
My next thought as I heard my self stammering on about a coach that didn’t exist, was that maybe I could conclude with
“And all the other white lies I can’t recall”.
The thing that baffled me was that I was in a variety of activities, all of which I’m sure I didn’t practice enough. Ballet, swimming.. the list went on. And yet I chose to make one up. What kind of kid makes up lies about sins that never happened?
Me, I guess.
Because I was so confused what to do next I just started crying. Weeping really. Father looked at me and started to offer me ways to do penance, starting with practicing my figure skating more. Hearing him restate my lie made me weep even louder, with the weird hiccups that started to hurt as I forced my little body to stop the madness.
I can’t really remember what else he said. My fate was sealed. What kind of terrible person lies to a priest in front of God and 100 or so Young Adult fiction books.
I came out of the office red faced and ashamed. This was yet another notch in my “I can’t believe I did that” belt and I was only 9. Up until this point the very worst thing I had done was finding out where they kept the empty recycling bottles at the hockey rink, and grabbing a few every time I was there for my brother's hockey, and returning them into the concession, again, for a free blue whale. I mean that was pretty brilliant, and no one was really getting hurt.
This was a sin far greater than those that came before.
As I accepted the fate that lay before me, I sadly walked towards my class knowing I should enjoy my time of earth. My afterlife was clearly going to be in the fiery depths of hell.
As I rounded the corner of the foyer, on my way down the hall, I saw an angel. She spoke two words to me and made me forget all about the fiery depths, and put my mind at ease.
As I hurriedly reached my class I exclaimed the miracle to my class.
“Nathan!! I just saw your mom in the foyer! It’s HOT LUNCH!!!
*Names of the innocent have been changed.