Setting: The altar of a Roman Catholic Church
Time: Next Saturday
Character: FATHER GALLAGHER, a weary, dispirited, angry priest in his late 50’s
FATHER GALLAGHER stands at the lectern surveying the audience, his congregation, and the couple he is about to marry.
A wedding. Liam and Moira. Wasn’t it just a few months ago we were baptizing Moira in that font right over there, a little girl full of the sacred promise that all children thoughtlessly carry with them into this world? A promise borne, not of their own merits, but of the persistent triumph of optimism over reality that is the very hallmark of a people of great faith. Ah, yes, the promise of Moira … long before the belly ring and the tattoos and the attitude, the promise that is always there. In the beginning.
A wedding. We gather to applaud Liam and Moira as they march off together into matrimony, much the way New Englanders once cheered for their boys marching off to the Civil War. Those long ago Union soldiers went, not to create a union as we create one today, but to fight savagely to preserve one … as all too soon Liam and Moira will no doubt have to fight to preserve theirs. If they can be bothered. Those long ago Union soldiers, who could be bothered, wore new uniforms appropriate for that adventure just as Liam and Moira today wear new uniforms appropriate for theirs. Or inappropriate, depending on your view of Moira’s neckline. I know what mine is.
A wedding. I have given the same wedding sermon for the past 30 years. Some of you opine–oh, yes, I hear the whispers–that I must lack imagination, or else I’d write a new one. Well. Be careful what you wish for. Because, with no illusions that it will make any difference to this naïve pair of narcissists who stand before me today or to the joyless couples who sit out there, I’ve crafted a new one.
A week ago, I found myself on an airplane flying to a family reunion I couldn’t extricate myself from in Iowa City. As I board, I’m met by relieved smiles from the more nervous flyers. “Oh, good, we’re safe,” they’re thinking. “God wouldn’t let anything happen with a priest on board.” Ha! September 11, a great priest, a legend in New York, kneels in the shadows of the doomed towers, anointing one of the dying when, 110 stories above his head, a poor soul facing flames worthy of the very mouth of hell decides to jump. Where was God, my friends, the God who knows if even a sparrow falls from the sky? Where was God that He couldn’t have delayed that poor soul a few seconds? Where was He! AWOL as usual, that’s where! AWOL.
My seat on the plane is in the baby ghetto in the back, as it always seems to be, surrounded by infants, Cheerios and spit-up for three hours. But no matter, I close my eyes and put in my earplugs. So that when the little hellions start shrieking like banshees when we begin our initial descent in a couple of hours, I can sleep through it.
And suddenly, I’m waking up. It’s night outside. My fellow passengers in the darkened cabin are all asleep. I’m puzzled. We were supposed to arrive in Iowa City at 2:00 p.m. so how can it be dark? I get up to inquire, but the stewardesses have vanished. The only sounds are the drone of the engines and the hiss of the virus-ladened air.
The cockpit door is ajar, so I look in. Both seats are empty, the headsets dangling from the ceiling. Through the windshield, I can see that we’re out over the ocean. Which is not typically how you approach Iowa City. And I know, the way you know things in a dream, that I am lost on a captainless ship, lost over an eternal vast ocean … lost. I should panic, start screaming, wake everyone up, find a pilot on board who maybe can turn the plane around and find us an airport, a safe harbor. But I don’t. Because I also know … there is no safe harbor.
So, instead, I sit down in the captain’s seat. I take the stick. I push it forward a little. The nose of the plane drops, like an initial descent. As if on cue, far back in the cabin, a banshee begins to wail. I close and lock the door and push the stick forward some more. The nose drops lower. People must be waking up back there. I hear a commotion, then a knocking on the door. (Indicating pushing the throttle levers forward) I slide the throttles to full. The plane picks up speed now, becoming a little unstable. Back in the cabin, it’s gotten loud. They’re pounding on the door, yelling, screaming, crying. Trying to pry it open. I ignore them. For I am the pilot now and they are my charges. I have no one to guide me, but that’s okay, I know what’s best. We’re very low now, pointing straight at the white caps below. And I push the stick all the way forward. Almost there. Finally, yes, finally, almost there. And the last thing I think, the moment before impact, when I wake up with a start as my plane touches down in Iowa City, is … At last. At last. Clarity.
(A long pause; then FATHER suddenly recalls himself to the present. He continues in a booming, seemingly joyous voice.)
A wedding! Is there any greater triumph of yearning over truth? Let us stand then and celebrate with Liam and Moira, let us beseech God, the Great Pinball Player in the Sky, that for once He resist His perverse urge to bandy the brand new ball of Liam and Moira Burke off the bumpers of the game of Life; that instead, for once, He step back from the machine and allow them a quick, painless ride to bottom, few points scored perhaps but little pain suffered, just a quiet disappearance into the dark slot, like an unseen, unloved ship at sea slipping beneath the waves.
A wedding! Yes, a wedding. Please stand. And let us pray.
(FATHER bows his head.)
copyright © 2010 James McLindon. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
James McLindon’s play, Comes a Faery, has been selected for the 2010 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. He is currently in residence at CAP21 in New York developing his play, Salvation, which will be produced there in 2010-11. His other plays have been developed and/or produced at theaters such as the Abingdon, hotINK Festival, Irish Repertory, Lark Play Development Center, Victory Gardens, Lyric Stage and Boston Playwrights Theatre, Colony Theatre, Theatricum Botanicum, PlayPenn Conference, and the Arkansas Rep in Little Rock.