Walking up steps to the great brownstone cathedral I watched pigeons cluster and flee the decrepit courtyard punctuated by a defunct, dry and weed infested fountain. Dusk settled in behind grey skies looming over the bell towers.
Inside it was empty, and quiet but for the echo of measured movements resounding across the caverns of stone. At the confessionals I stopped to admire a centerpiece of stained glass reigning above the altar. I pulled the heavy red curtain of a booth aside and went into the dark.
I was transported by the smell of pillows in my grandparents’ basement. When the screen opened the sequence of things I said came mostly from memory, but I knew I was getting it wrong. At my age I also knew it didn’t matter. I confessed a general collection of things that made me imperfect and drifted into a fair petition for counsel, which came somberly through an old voice.
“As you get closer to someone, they’re sometimes likely to do less for you, and certainly less likely to exalt you. And more able to do harm because of the intimacy, and the detail and accuracy of their knowledge. Their negativity is more likely to have a basis in truth. Recall that a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”
When the screen opened the sequence of things I said came mostly from memory, but I knew I was getting it wrong.
I never applied the right philosophy at the right time, even though each was good and right in its pure form standing alone. I didn’t take it personally, though maybe I should have. I just considered it bad luck, or chargeable to a history of schooling that rewarded conformity over novelty — a repetition of tasks and information long ago thought to be useful without any lesson in their application to the life I actually led.
* * *
I ignored my penance and sat at the fountain outside, picking the leaves off weeds and tossing them toward the birds to observe their reaction.