Christmas in Iverhill: The Note

NOTE: To read Chuck Miller’s book “The Robins of Iverhill: A Minor League Fairy Tale,” as well as the short stories in the “Christmas in Iverhill” series, visit this link.

Tuesday, December 25, 1973.

After Father Aloysius finished the final morning services for the parishoners at Iverhill’s Church of Most Precious Blood – after he shook the hands of each exiting family and asked the little children if they received what they wanted for Christmas, and even blessed a Bible that one child received as a present, his day was almost done.

He was on the tail end of a long 48-hour period – working with the Interfaith Charities to organize the turkey dinner deliveries yesterday, then a Midnight Mass, and then Morning Mass on Christmas Day – he was exhausted. And all that required his attention was a little parish maintenance – some sweeping, some dusting, putting the hymnals back on the pew racks, checking the pews for leftover chewing gum, the usual things.

Sweep, clean, neaten, tidy up.  Nobody wants to come to an unkempt church, he thought to himself.  This is God’s house.  God keeps a tidy house.  At least if God can get a few more dollars from the collection boxes, then maybe Father Al can pay for the crack in the church wall when the plasterer arrives tomorrow.

He then walked over to the collection boxes.  Sometimes the boxes were stuffed with dollars and coins; other times, someone would use it for disposing their gum wrappers or cigarette butts.  After last year, when someone left a lit cigarette in the collection box and it burned through about $25 in paper money, Father Al kept a small fire extinguisher near the collection boxes lest the church actually burn down because someone couldn’t control their nicotine urges.

He unlocked the first box, stationed near the right of the church entrance.  Plenty of coins, plenty of dollars, a note saying “Good service today Father Al,” another note saying “Can we get a different flavor of sacramental wine?” and another note whose barely legible handwriting must have been influenced by a Christmas Eve bender and Christmas morning hangover.

Then he unlocked the second box, stationed near the left of the church entrance.  Some more money, some more coins, a couple of checks, and a white envelope.

Father Al opened the envelope.  There were no checks inside, no bills or coins.  Just a handwritten note.

He looked at the envelope.  No return address.  No forwarding address.  Blank and white.

Taking the note over to a better-lit part of the church, Father Al sat down, took the note out of the envelope, and read it.

“Dear God,” the note began.  “In Your mercy, we all seek and ask You for forgiveness.  And that we are asked to forgive those who have harmed us.  In Your wisdom and glory, I ask for forgiveness for my father.”

Father Al looked up.  This wasn’t a letter for the collection box.  This was a letter for the confessional.  He continued to read.

“Lord, I came back today to attend his funeral.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in Iverhill in ten years.  I can’t change the past.  I can’t change what he did to me, and how much it hurt me and shamed me.  But what has changed in those years has been my perspective.  I can’t make things different.  All I can do is acknowledge that I became an adult in spite of what he did to me.”

Father Al continued to read, his vision darting from tortured word to tortured word, his lips half-reading out loud, half-whispering a prayer.

“Ten years ago, I moved away from Iverhill, and I got away from his hurt and his anger and his fear.  I never gave up, and I never allowed anyone to do to me what he did.  I still bear the scars of what he did, but they are scars of memory and not scars of fear.

“God, this takes a tremendous amount of will power on my part, and I’m not sure if You will hear me.  I do know, in my heart, that You are the almighty judge and redeemer, and that You will make the final determination as to where my father’s soul goes after his body has been laid to rest.  With this letter, I ask You to forgive my father for what he did.  He wasn’t strong enough to overcome his alcoholism.  He wasn’t strong enough to overcome his demons.  The last time he saw me, I was leaving Iverhill and leaving him behind.  I don’t know if that changed his ways or not.  But I can’t let what he did to me continue to cripple me or stunt me.  I will never forget the horrible things he did.  But I want to forgive him – and hope that, in Your mercy, you will forgive him as well.

“In Your name I pray.  Amen.”

The letter bore no signature.  The handwriting on the letter was lightly penned.  If Father Al had to take a guess, he thought it might have been a woman’s handwriting.  But he wasn’t sure.

Father Al wiped a small tear away from his eye.  For someone to go through what this letter-writer had experienced – and still to ask God for forgiveness against that tormentor – it was a tremendously poignant and bitter letter, full of pain and sorrow and hope and resolve.  Father Al thought about who the “father” might be – perhaps it was someone who visited the Confessional booth in the past; perhaps it was someone who only entered the church twice a year.

But this was no time for detective work.  This was a time for reverence.

Standing up from the pew, Father Al took the letter up to the church altar.  He whispered a small prayer upon the handwritten note, and dabbed the letter with some drops of water.  He then took the letter to his rectory, took a white church envelope from his desk, and sealed the letter inside.  He then took a pen and wrote the words, “To Be Opened Only By The Lord” on the envelope’s front.

He then walked back out to the church entranceway.  He knew where this letter had to go.

Along the side of one of the walls of the church was a tiny crack.  Over time, the crack had grown to the point where Father Al knew it needed repair.  That’s why he scheduled a contractor to fix the crack, and the contractor would arrive tomorrow.

He knelt down in front of the cracked wall, and slowly slid the envelope into the wall fracture.

And by Wednesday, the masonry worker would seal up the crack, as if the fissure never existed.  And the note, containing the words of an anonymous prayer for forgiveness, would next be read – at some future date – by the Lord himself.