In the Silence

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

It took Bill and Mary three days to pull their fifth-wheel to California and locate where Marcea and her kids were staying. Unpacking and putting together Danny's new computer made it seem like an early Christmas. The two Sisters at the convent joined in the excitement; it was an opportunity for them to get with the current trend of the computing world. Mary helped Ann find a place in her room for her new collection of Breyer horses and told her that Bill would find her a place to take some riding lessons, all per David's wish.

Marcea never asked about David, and almost refused to let the kids accept the gifts. When Mary presented her with the hand made glass box that encased a lovely silk yellow rose sitting on top of a letter from David, she just put it to the side.

The Sisters insisted that Bill and Mary pull their fifth-wheel up alongside the old convent. There was more than enough room. The dormitory style building once was home to over thirty nuns, but was now only occupied by Sister Madeline and Sister Katherine. Pulling the fifth wheel from Colorado had exhausted them both. They accepted the offer and would stay a few days, but only if they could earn their keep.

The very next day Mary helped at the day school and Bill's new role was handy man. The convent and old school had been neglected almost twenty years, falling victim to the general trend of closing down of parochial schools. The sister's were diligent in utilizing part of the school by converting it into a combined daycare/preschool but the old convent was on the auction block to be sold.

Six weeks came and went and Bill and Mary had yet to move on. The rewards of helping at the school were more then they could have prayed for. Being childless, and now to be part of taking care of almost forty children daily was an answer to their prayers. They did talk about traveling down the California coastline to scout out some of the retirement resorts and decided winter would be the perfect time.

David finally got the address but had strict instructions not to call. He wrote to everyone at least a couple of times; many letters to Danny and a dozen or more letters to Marcea . . . which remained unopened. She just stuffed them into the fine glass box he had sent. She contemplated throwing all of it out but the beveled glass box held together with intricate gold corners was too beautiful and expensive. She couldn't even sell it or give it away because the lid had script etching in the arch of a rainbow reading MARCEA'S TREASURES, and at the end of the rainbow was her birthstone inlayed into the glass. When his letters ceased coming, the glass box sat under her bed, forgotten amid the dust.

Danny tutored both nuns on using his computer and even demonstrated how the modem worked. David had taught Danny well in communicating between computers. The Sisters were especially impressed one night when Danny and someone unknown talked via written messages on the computer screen.

Paul drove down from the monastery at least twice a week to visit and always made it a point to visit with Marcea privately. Even his life seemed complete after receiving that first letter from his dad months ago. His parents were making plans to come visit for Christmas and Mr. Miller called him every Sunday evening just to talk.

Bill and Mary enjoyed the December weather, so mild compared to what they were used to in Colorado. They moved into the convent at the insistence of the Sisters and each day the rewards of helping fulfilled them; it was like the family they never had. Bill sometimes went out to his fifth wheel to watch an occasional football game and have a beer. One Monday night when the Vikings were playing he was joined by Sister Madeline. She grew up in Minnesota and always followed the team on the radio. Her knowledge of football impressed Bill and they made a small wager on the game. Bill had to do dishes for a month and learned not to bet, at least not with Sister Madeline.

Ann loved her new school and made many friends. Her riding lessons were every Wednesday after school and Sister Madeline always offered to take Ann to the riding arena. She had grown up a farm girl and missed the animals and barnyard atmosphere. Ann bonded to her like glue and the two became riding partners.

Danny was a typical ten-year-old boy who could do without school. Many children were envious of his knowledge, especially with computers and math. Danny loved living at the convent with the long tile halls and many empty rooms to explore. It was only a few weeks before he had everyone wrapped around his finger. Only one thing was missing; David. Everyone was forgetting him except for Danny and every Wednesday evening they were secretly communicating via their computers. Danny could tell David was lonely and didn't understand why he wouldn't come and visit. David promised to visit after things got straightened out, hopefully within the new year. Danny wondered if after a year anyone would even remember who David was. He prayed for David each night before bed.

There was electricy in the air over the Christmas Play the youngsters at the preschool were practicing. Bill was busy building props and Mary was working on costumes. Paul introduced Marcea to his friend and mentor Monsignor Grant and the two priests volunteered to put on Christmas Mass for the children before their Christmas Program. Even Paul's parents were planning to come see the play during their visit. Ann and Danny were caught up in the excitement, yet Danny's yearning for David grew daily.

One week before the Christmas play Sister Katherine received the bad news. Someone had made an offer on the convent. The thirty-room dormitory style building was an ideal facility for a halfway house. The daycare/preschool could stay because it had become self-supporting, but the convent would have to be sold. Sister Katherine adamantly disagreed with the bishop's decision, saying that it would be the demise of the school. "How many parents would drop their kids off next to a halfway house?" It wasn't a matter of her not wanting to help and be supportive. It was just a hard fact: children next to a Halfway house wasn't a good mixture.

Sister Katherine broke the bad news after dinner. She tried to keep everyone's spirits up with the fact that the daycare/preschool would stay open with some minor adjustment, but everyone knew better. It was somber and quiet that evening when Marcea went down the long hall and knocked on Sister Katherine's office. "Yes, come in."

Entering the office and fuming inside, Marcea started to pace back and forth in front of the desk. "Sister, how can they sell this home to house some criminals? It's not right!"

"My child, is it not right that these men get a second chance in life?"

"No! That's not it. It just won't work, next to the school. I just don't feel good about it," replied Marcea.

"I tend to agree with you, Marcea. But it's out of our hands. All we can do is pray."

"Pray!" Marcea said, loud enough that it echoed down the long tiled hall and caught Danny's ear. Danny wheeled down the hall close enough to listen in.

"Yes, Marcea, we should pray. God, hears all our prayers, although, we might not like how he answers them some of the time."

"Sister Katherine, I hate to differ with you, but we should do more than pray. Why don't we turn the convent into a halfway house ourselves? We could make a profit."

"The bishop would love that one. He doesn't want to sell either. But its out of our hands."

"Sister Katherine, just hear me out," pleaded Marcea. "We could turn it into a different kind of halfway house, one for children like Danny."

Just outside the door, Danny was stunned and leaned closer. He had never heard of a halfway house and thought his mother was referring to him as half a person.

"Go ahead, Marcea. I'm listening,"

"Sister, I love Danny so much, and most people with children with special needs don't have a place to drop these kids off for a weekend or overnight. You see, parents need to get away and spend an evening or a weekend together. It would strengthen their relationship; they just deserve a little quality time together, alone... if you know what I mean." Marcea drew a deep breath and continued. "With all the rooms and everything, this convent would be perfect. I've been thinking about it ever since Paul brought us up here."

"Marcea, it sounds like a wonderful idea. And I do agree that a weekend alone or a overnight sexual rendezvous is good way to rejuvenate any married couple's relationship. But there's one little problem. Where would you get $250,000 to buy this building?"

Marcea stopped pacing. Her dream was shattered by the quarter of a million dollar price tag, something that never crossed her mind.

Danny felt his mother's disappointment in the stillness and quietly glided back down the hall toward his room. It sounds like a great idea to me. I'm the one that needs the break. I could have somebody stay overnight and we could play all night without Mom being around. But why call it a halfway house? Why not a fun house. I wish I had the money. I could always sell my computer, if that would help.

With disappointment written in her face and unable to say another word, Marcea turned to leave. "Marcea," Sister Katherine said, "I will say a rosary tonight, asking God that he might share in your dream."

Everybody retired early that night. Danny even cut his computer session short with David, after filling him in on the bad news. Sister Katherine went to the small chapel and recited the five sorrowful mysteries of Christ's life. She knew that when Jesus was man on earth he shared the plight they now faced. She prayed that Mary His mother would intercede and ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to descend on their home. Before anybody fell to sleep that night, each person prayed, differently but for the same thing — that their new extended family would hold somehow together.

Nothing was said the next couple of days about the pending sale of the convent, though the bishop came by to say that he wished it did not have to happen. Sister Katherine told him about the idea of creating a halfway house for special children. His only reply was that calling it a halfway house was cruel and not appropriate because these were Gods special children. Sister Katherine changed the subject by inviting him to their Christmas play, but he had to decline due to previous commitments.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Christmas spirit finally started to prevail. With only three days until the play, it was hectic. The young children were to sing and perform the play, The Littlest Angel. Just keeping all the wings and halos on them would be a miracle in itself. Sister Katherine was happy that it was to be just a small program, not like the over twenty programs she had put on as principal when the school had over three hundred students.

The program was planned to start after Monsignor Grant and Father Paul Miller said a mass for the children Christmas Eve. The monsignor invited the children to come up and sit around the altar. Despite the pandemonium, not even a candle was disturbed. In the monsignor's wisdom, he kept the mass to less then forty minutes. Every pew in the church was filled with parents and friends bursting with pride, especially Mr. and Mrs. Miller who had flown down to be with their son on Christmas.

After the mass, everyone was invited to the school building for the Christmas program. Parents had brought cookies and treats and Bill and Mary had planned a surprise of their own. Mary had purchased small gifts for all the children and rented a Santa costume for Bill. The children sang and their play went off without a hitch.

Bill was standing behind the purple stage curtain just about to enter as Santa Claus, when the bishop surprised everyone by coming through the side door and climbing on to the stage. "Dear Friends, I'm sorry to interrupt this wonderful Christmas program but I have some news. About three weeks ago we had an offer on the convent here on the school grounds. There were some problems with the offer that might have caused some concern to you. To be honest, I was a little hesitant about the situation myself." The small auditorium was silent; everyone knew of the pending offer.

The bishop folded his hands in front, and then continued, "Well, we received another offer just four days ago. This offer is all cash. In fact, the money has already been put up, but there's a problem, it is for $40,000 less. This anonymous person still wants to convert the convent into a halfway house, but one for kids with special needs, a fun place were they could come and spend the night while their parents got a free night or weekend off. I'm not exactly sure how it will all work, and I don't like calling it a halfway house, but I am considering accepting this offer."

Before the bishop could continue, Mr. Miller stood up and interrupted. "Excuse me, your most Reverend, Sir. My son, Father Paul, explained to me the concern everyone is having with the first offer. I would urge you to take the latter offer. If it is just a matter of money, I would like to make up difference." The sound of clapping filled the auditorium. Then another person stood up in support and offered a thousand dollars donation toward the home for special kids. Before the bishop could speak again over twenty people had stood to pledge support and money.

The bishop finally got the floor again. "Well, it looks like we are going to be starting a halfway home for God's special children. The first thing we need to do is to find a better name for it, but for now, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas."

"Back here," Bill whispered at the bishop through the stage curtains. The bishop took the cue and exited behind the stage curtain. Bill made a good Santa and hoped he could hide the Texan accent. He had his hand on the curtain just ready to make his grand entrance for the children but had to ask. "This anonymous cash offer, was any of it in cashiers checks in the form of $45,000 each?"

The bishop raised his head back trying to get a better look at who was playing Santa and said, "Yes. Four of the checks were for $45,000 and one is for $30,000. How did you know? Are you the one that sent them?"

Bill looked down at the bishop smiled and said, "No it wasn't me. But I think it may have been one of my little helpers. Merry Christmas." As he parted the curtain a deafening roar erupted. Children excitedly flowed up on stage and surrounded him. Mary handed out small presents and everyone was now in the true Christmas spirit.

Marcea and Sister Katherine were still standing in the back trying to believe what had just transpired. Sister Katherine had clutched the crucifix around her neck and prayed. After a long, long period of shock Marcea finally said, "Thank you, Sister. You sure know how to pray."

"Don't thank me. Thank God."

It was the best Christmas Eve ever.

After the program, everyone at the convent sat around the table drinking eggnog and hot cider, almost unable to deal with the news. When the phone rang twice and then quit, the conversation ceased as everyone anticipated the phone to ring again. Bill had noticed that the phone did that often, and every time it did Danny would go to his bedroom. As usual, Danny excused himself.

Bill waited a few minutes and then excused himself also. He stood outside Danny's door and could hear him typing on the computer. Bill knocked and the door opened slightly. It was just as he thought, the two phone rings was a signal for Danny to go get his computer ready to receive a message. Danny looked up from the keyboard and Bill slipped in the room and shut the door behind him. He moved over behind Danny and read the Screen.

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS DANNY. I KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT WEDNESDAY, BUT I WANTED TO WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS. I HOPE EVERYTHING IS GOING OKAY. HOW IS THAT SALE GOING THAT YOU HAD TOLD ME ABOUT? DO YOU STILL HAVE TO MOVE OUT OF THE CONVENT?

Danny typed back.

 

 

DAVID, YOU CAN'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED! SOMEBODY IS BUYING THE CONVENT AND THEY WANT TO TURN IT INTO A PLACE WHERE KIDS LIKE ME CAN COME AND STAY LATE, EVEN OVERNIGHT. SOME IMPORTANT MAN CAME AND TOLD US ABOUT IT TODAY. THE SISTERS AND MOM ARE MAKING BIG PLANS RIGHT NOW AT THE TABLE.

THAT SOUNDS GREAT DANNY. SEE? I TOLD YOU THERE IS STILL A SANTA CLAUS. HOW IS YOUR MOTHER? DOES SHE EVER ASK ABOUT ME?

Danny paused before he typed back. He wanted to lie but couldn't.

 

 

MOM IS FINE, AND SHE DOES NOT TALK ABOUT YOU. I THINK IT IS BECAUSE SHE IS TOO BUSY.

 

HAS SHE FOUND A NEW BOYFRIEND OR ANYTHING?

NO, THE ONLY MAN SHE EVER TALKS TO IS YOUR FRIEND PAUL, THE PRIEST. THEY TALK A LOT.

There was another pause while David thought of what to ask.

 

I HOPE YOU GOT THE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS I SENT TO YOU AND YOUR SISTER.

WE DID.

DANNY, I AM GOING TO SIGN OFF NOW. YOU HAVE A GOOD CHRISTMAS.

Bill tapped Danny on the shoulder, "Tell David I want to talk to him." Danny typed the message into the computer.

 

BILL WANTS TO TALK.

Danny left the room and Bill typed in the message.

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SANTA.

BILL, WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT DANNY AND ME?

JUST TONIGHT. TOO MANY STRANGE THINGS LIKE THE $45,000 CASHIERS CHECKS AND ALL. THE TWO PHONE RINGS ARE CLEVER. ANYHOW, YOUR SECRET IS SAFE WITH ME.

THANKS BILL, AND MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU.

DAVID, ARE YOU SAFE? YOU CAN ANSWER. DANNY LEFT THE ROOM.

I THINK I'VE GOT THINGS UNDER CONTROL. I NEED TO GET SOME HARD EVIDENCE. I AM WORKING ON A PLAN. THAT IS ALL I SHOULD SAY. WHEN I GET DONE I WOULD LIKE TO COME OUT AND SEE MARCEA. DO YOU THINK SHE WANTS TO SEE ME?

DAVID, SHE NEVER MENTIONS YOUR NAME. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO TELL HER?

NO, NOT NOW. AND NEVER LET ANYBODY KNOW THAT I MADE THE CONTRIBUTION. GOOD BYE, BILL

David shut off his computer. It was Christmas Eve and he felt so alone. The fact that Marcea never even talked about him hurt. He felt a little bit of resentment or maybe jealously over the private long visits with Paul. David laid back in the tan recliner and kept scanning through the cable channels on his new 45 inch projection TV. Nothing interested him; he turned it off. After an hour of sitting in the dark of his new apartment he decided to go out for a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of pumpkin pie, mainly to make some human contact.

Driving toward the inner city, David hoped to find one cafe open on Christmas Eve. It was almost 11:00 PM and everything was closed; even the streets were empty. He found one small corner grocery store open and while paying for a stale cup coffee he tried to exchange small talk with the clerk, but the small Asian only spoke broken English. David wished him a Merry Christmas and left. Sitting in his truck and sipping from the white Styrofoam cup, David watched people entering an old stone church across the street.

Leaving the store parking lot, his headlights shone across the road and he could barely read the banner that was stretched above the doors of the old church. ASK NOT WHAT YOUR CHURCH CAN DO FOR YOU. ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR CHURCH. As he flipped on the right turn signal, David now saw a man standing out in the cold shaking hands, welcoming everyone. David then flipped off the blinker and shot straight across the road into the church parking lot.

"Welcome to our Midnight Byzantine Christmas Service," said the priest standing outside and extending his hand toward David. "And your name is?"

"David. Oh sorry I mean Paul, Paul Miller," replied David then slipped into the back of the church. Boy that was clever. I need to practice more using an alias. It sure looks Gothic in here. Look at all these icons. It smells like something is burning. I'm going to sit by the door so I can ditch out of here if it starts to get weird.

The service started and the procession with incense and the formality of the service didn't seem weird; it actually seemed more spiritual. Then the priest took the pulpit and started his sermon. He said Christmas wasn't even practiced in the early church. According to the Bible, Jesus's birth date was most likely in the spring and December 25 used to be the last day of a pagan festival known as the Feast of the Invincible Sun, giving praise to the winter solstice. David was getting restless and considered heading for the door.

Moving away from the pulpit to the center of the alter, the priest raised his voice. "The fact that the elders of the early church chose today to counter that early Rome celebration can be construed by some as a church lie! Some theologians today even go as far as to make others feel sinful for worshipping on Christmas day! The truth is, the church didn't change the facts and never meant the date to be considered historical fact. We only wanted to acknowledge and celebrate that Christ was born! That is what our whole faith is based upon. And we should celebrate and give praise on this day."

David's interest began to peak and he now he listened to each word. During the communion ritual he kept going back over the sermon. The church knew that Christ was born closer to the summer yet deliberately chose a different day so to conflict with the pagan feast. How is that any different from what the Department is doing? I just don't get it. Where is the truth?

The service concluded and the priest was at the back, again greeting each person by name and offering a Merry Christmas. David was one of the last to exit and the priest said, "Have a Merry Christmas, David or I mean Paul Miller."

"Thank you," said David walking off. He got down the stairs when he just had to go back. "Sir, I just have to ask. . ."

"You can call me Mike."

"Mike, I just didn't understand your sermon. It seems like the church did change the facts intentionally so to benefit their cause. What would be the difference if somebody else did the same thing?

"Do you mean like changing one's name?"

"No, I mean like if the government was changing facts and statistics. What would be the difference?

"The difference is God's words are not made up of facts or statistics. God's message goes beyond numbers or dates. What is important is that Jesus was born, not the exact date or hour. Like the story of Jonah and the whale; exactly how many days or even how he lived in a whale's stomach isn't important. We should focus on the message of what happened to Jonah for disobeying God."

"But Mike, the facts and statistics are important. That's how we educate ourselves, form our opinions, and even elect people. How can we determine right from wrong without them?"

"That might be true in man's world. But in God's world we call it having faith. We should accept God at His word. Words, facts and statistics can be put in any order to mean different things. There is more truth in an honest handshake, a genuine smile or a loving hug than there is in all the words in the world. If you have to ask yourself if something is right or wrong, then it is probably wrong. God breathes truth into every man and woman. It's there inside you and every person knows it. Listen to your soul."

"Mike, it's just so hard to understand."

"Yes, I know. Even with doing my graduate studies at Notre Dame and going back to school each summer, even I have a hard time understanding," admitted the priest. "I know that it is late, but if you want to come over for a cup of coffee we can talk. I even have some leftover pie."

"What kind?"

"Pumpkin, David. After all, it's Christmas."

 

 

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