I’m going to tell you something you probably won’t understand, let alone believe. I’m a priest so I’m used to this.
For years I’ve listened to confessions. I’m human; I admit when I first committed to this life choice, that part of the job excited me. Then I listened to so many stories of pain and regret. It was a weight on me. I wasn’t prepared for how deeply I would absorb others’ secret shames. I wanted to fix these things people wished they hadn’t done – to fly back through time, find them before they committed the sin, lay a hand on their arm, and stop them.
I prayed for this.
God answered my prayer.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t believe me.
I would go to sleep and wake up and it would be a day on which someone had done something regretful. I couldn’t plan for this; there was no schedule. I would just wake up somewhere else in time and sometimes space. If the sin occurred in another town, or even another country, I would wake up in a room there. It feels very much like having a dream.
The first time this happened, I found my way down plush carpeted stairs of an inn; I surmised it was in the French countryside. I said to the clerk, “I’m sorry, but do you know what I’m doing here?” She said plainly in my own language: “Your room has been taken care of.” The phone rang; she answered it in French.
I walked into an empty parlor and sat on a worn velvet loveseat. I tried to steady my breathing and believe I was dreaming. Then I saw her, a woman who had told me about an affair. She breezed into the inn with her lover, both of them laughing. This was years before I met her, before she moved to my town, started coming to my church, and told me of this pivotal scene.
They kissed and he bustled upstairs for something while she waited in a front room. I walked to her and quietly told her about my prayer. I said I know it sounds crazy but I knew certain details. She covered her face with her hands and cried. Said she knew I was right. She sat down alone and waited for him to return, waited to change her fate.
I went for a walk past some fields. In a café, a waitress brought coffee without my asking and wouldn’t let me pay my bill. I watched a matinée and went to bed early. I woke up in the proper time and place.
That Sunday I saw them – the woman, her husband, their children. Together again, as if the affair had never wrecked them.
The second time this happened, I awoke in my own bed and my own home but years before. It was earlier than dawn and I couldn’t sleep. So I got dressed with the strange feeling I had something major to do that day. I checked my calendar and saw the first square without an “X” on it was the wedding day of a young couple I had married before. I would marry them again today, for the first time.
The couple had been happy, so I strained to recall something among the everyday tragedies I carry with me. I remembered the bride’s brother. He had drunk so much whiskey before the wedding, being nervous about giving his best man’s speech, that he remembered almost nothing of the day. He had stood before the eyes of all his loved ones, before his only sister and her groom waiting to be honored, and he had slurred – something, he could not remember what and no one had the heart to tell him afterward.
So I found him. I knew where he drank; he was a common confessor. He always went to a certain patch of woods near a park. There was a big fallen tree he used for a bench, and there he would sit and drink. I found him there that morning with the bottle nearly full. The sky was filling with colors so beautiful that everything seemed possible. I said, “Don’t drink that; you’ll regret it more than you can possibly know right now.”
But he drank it anyway. Sometimes people aren’t ready to hear what they already know to be true. Sometimes it’s both too early and too late.