A Catholic church. It was lunchtime. The chapel was empty when I wandered in. The janitor was Latino and spoke fractured English. He was elderly, with lily-white hair.
“May I help joo?” he said.
I asked to speak to the priest.
“Have a seat,” the custodian said, “the Padre will be with you shortly.”
I sat in a pew. The church was stone quiet. The A/C compressor kicked on. I could feel the Blessed Virgin looking at me with either disapproval or shock.
Because I’m not Catholic. Not even close. Truthfully, I don’t know what I am. Neither did I know why I was here.
I was raised Southern Baptist. We were the kind of strict people who fought against alcohol and premarital sex because it could lead to bingo.
But today I am broken. Every time I think about the three 9-year-olds who were gunned down in Nashville, my heart shatters. I cannot stop weeping. I think of the three adults who were slaughtered in the hallways, and I fall to pieces.
“I’m not Catholic,” I explained to the custodian.
He shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect.”
I waited for the priest. And the janitor waited with me, which was nice of him.
The old man sat in the pew beside me. We both stared at the intricate stained glass above the altar, glowing like multi-colored fire.
The janitor’s face looked like aged leather. It made me wonder what a man his age was doing, still tying down a nine-to-five.
“Joo are not Catholic,” he said, “yet you are here?”
“Well, I figured, how could it hurt?”
I looked at the framed paintings of the 14 Stations of the Cross on the chapel walls. Jesus sort of looked like a Ken doll with a beard.
“Joo are here for a confession?” the custodian asked me.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I guess I just wanted to talk to someone.”
The truth is, I was in Nashville when the school shooting happened. I was only a few miles away from the disaster. I was on the sidewalk when a motorcade of emergency vehicles started zipping by. Sirens were everywhere. Later I drove by the school and my blood went cold.
I can’t quit thinking about it. It makes me so deeply sad I can’t stand it.
“Joo know what I do when I am sad?” the old man said.
“I close my eyes, and I just breathe in and out. Like this.”
The old man performed a breathing exercise. I was starting to wonder if this man was all there.
I smiled. “That’s nice.”
“Joo try it.”
“No thanks, I just had lunch.”
So I closed my eyes and I breathed in and out. I felt awkward and idiotic. He seemed very proud that I was breathing.
“And joo know what I do when I breathe?” he said. “I say one word.”
“What word do you say?”
Then the man proceeded to demonstrate again. He closed his eyes. He breathed inward through his nostrils, slowly, then he exhaled and whispered “Dios.”
“Does it work?” I asked.
“So it’s basically a one-word prayer?”
He shook his head. “No, sir. It’s not a prayer. It is—how you say?—letting go.”
“Can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Are you on medication?”
We were quiet for a few minutes. I looked around the sanctuary, wondering where the priest was. I figured he’d forgotten me.
The old man spoke. His voice was melancholy.
“When I was growing up in Mexico, there were evil men in my neighborhood. They kill my little brother when he was a boy. This is why I left Mexico.
“My mother, she was strong, the day we bury my brother, we cried so hard, and she teach us all to close our eyes and breathe just say ‘Dios.’ She tell us that if we know no other words, if we cannot speak, if we are too hurt to move, all you say is ‘Dios, Dios, Dios,’ and this is enough. God will carry you.”
Turns out I didn’t need a priest.
Cathy M - March 30, 2023 10:18 am
The breathing exercise is calming and I frequently do this when I have trouble sleeping. When you add Dios to that you are in communion with our Heavenly Father. That is spiritual medicine.and the custodian at the church was indeed on medication. I am touched that he shared his medicine with you. The horrific shooting in Nashville has pierced our hearts and calling out to God is our best medication. I pray he hears our plea. Our world is broken and only God can fix that. What the world needs now is love , sweet love that’s the only thing that there’’s just too little of. The late Bert Bachrach wrote this song and Dionne Warwick sang it beautifully. God can do anything and I know he hears our prayers. All believers are on their knees begging God to mend broken hearts and shattered families. Your friend at the Catholic Church was a messenger from above. I can’t sleep and it is 5:15 am. I am going to take some medicine and it’s the best kind. You can’t buy it . Just breathe deeply and call his name. He can do anything. Love and peace to you and all your followers.
biglar48 - March 30, 2023 10:36 am
Angels have been known to show up in janitor clothing .
stephenpe - March 30, 2023 11:20 am
You are a treasure, Sean. And now gunfire is the leading cause of death in America. It just passed auto accidents. We need some sort of seat belt to protect kids from guns. At this point we need a national discussion and take the NRA $$$ out of it.
Cheryl - March 30, 2023 11:36 am
“Be still, and know that I am God.” ~Psalm 46:10 ❤️
Pamela Humphreys - March 30, 2023 12:41 pm
julieannhall - March 30, 2023 12:41 pm
Dios. Dios. Dios. Dios. Dios. Dios. Dios…..
Sylvia Gullatt - March 30, 2023 4:16 pm
“Ya-weh” or any other name for God, also helps. Thank you, Sean. Your words brought more tears to this teacher, mother, neighbor, friend, human being. . . God help us all.
Dee Thompson - March 30, 2023 6:41 pm
I wholeheartedly agree something needs to be done to stop the shootings at schools. Sane, normal people don’t shoot up schools. Insane people do it, and we need to be able to lock them up against their will. Since we got rid of mental hospitals and insurance companies started refusing to pay for treatment for mental illness shootings have skyrocketed. Our lawmakers need to demand better treatment for people who are mentally ill. We also need armed guards at every school and church, until the problem is eliminated.
Ken M. - March 31, 2023 2:46 am
Jesus… Jesus… Jesus. Please teach us to love each other like You loved us. Please teach us to not be angry with each other for our differing opinions. Please help us remember that we are ALL saved by Grace alone, and that we are ALL dearly loved children of God.
Vince - April 3, 2023 12:53 am
Rest assured Sean, the Holy Mother only looks at us with the love only a mother could have.