The crows are as reliable as any alarm clock. It was they who set it all off concerning the late vocation. If the Catholic Church refuses to take me, I could join a more sensible and practical religion where priests can marry. But more about the priesthood when I figure out exactly what it is I’m writing about.
I had a dose of the “what-ifs” yesterday. The effects of too much drink can set us into a retrospective examination of life. The “what-ifs” are often followed by the “why-didn’t-I”s. Mostly the post-drinking worry room is vacated around dawn. That’s where the crows come in. Their day starts at first light with that raucous chorus, and very often the worries dissipate with the crows’ opening opus of the day, but this time they got me thinking.
You’re probably wondering what this riddle-speak is all about. That makes two of us. Sometimes it takes a while to flesh out an article. The after-effects of drinking muddle and confuse. I’m a bit morose. The past is taking over. Not good. There are days I would prefer to forget.
The crows make a desperate clatter when they rise up from the bed all together on these first mornings of spring.
They don’t do the rubbing of the eyes at wake-up, nor do they reach out to turn off the alarm on the phone. I never heard of a crow making coffee and not uttering a caw until the caffeine hit kicked in. I’ve been as wide awake as the crows for the last two hours.
There weren’t too many crows near our house in Listowel town centre when I was an altar boy and the church ruled the world. But then, as I was rushing down to serve eight o’clock mass, the crows would fly up from the Parson’s Wood in what is now the town park, just after their dawn alarm call. The crows were like commuters on the Dart. But no one knows where they go before the rookery breaks up into lone foragers.
I think in pictures. I can see the small me now. There I am with my little black cloth altar-boy bag slung over my shoulder. Inside is the black cassock and a white soutane, and the black canvas shoes. The eight o’clock mass priests were Fr Galvin and Fr Curtin, Mam’s first cousin. Two decent, kind men who were Gaelic football fanatics. Mass was said in 15 minutes on match mornings.
I might have a late vocation for the priesthood. “Father Billy” has a nice ring to it. It gives the impression of a lively man-of-the-people type of priest who takes a few pints in the local pub and tells women, privately, their berth in heaven is safe if they take the pill or crack open a box of condoms on a Saturday night after finishing off the bottle of red.
“Father Bill” would also be avuncular and a take-no-notice type of cleric. There would be no talk of burning gay people in hell, and he would be excellent at being nice to old people, what with home visits and hearing confessions without any sins in them. He would be the kind of man you’d like to have with you for the last rites.
His sermons would be fast and compassionate, the type of sermons sinners wouldn’t mind. There would be no calling anyone out. He would be run off his feet, what with the shortage of priests, but there would never be a word of complaint out of him. His only comfort would be the housekeeper wetting his tea for drinking in bed – or, better again, hopping in beside him on a cold winter morning.
There would have to be a rule change if Father Billy and Father Bill were to be allowed to enter the priesthood. The Pope surely reads this column. He wouldn’t so much as thumb through an encyclical before consulting the piece here of a Saturday morning. So how about it, Your Holiness?
If I had my pick of parishes, I would take somewhere close enough to home with a steady trade in mass cards and no cross right-wing people phoning up the bishop and spontaneously combusting over their perceived views of what was best practice. And while you’re at it, pontiff, why not give the women the right to become priests? The attitude of your colleagues towards women is: “Look what they did in the garden.”
It was the cries of the crows that brought back the small boy on his way through the silent streets to serve eight o’clock mass – 8am is the middle of the day now.
I would love to be back there with him now and tell him not to worry so much about small things; love to put my arm around him and say, ‘You’re a good lad, young Bill. A bit cracked and maybe too talkative for your own good at times’. I would tell him to be brave when the cross teacher went off the head; tell him to tell his dad and mam when times were tough. I would definitely advise little Billy to practise more with his left, as was suggested by Fr Curtin.
There were many times in my life when a trigger brings the me of yesteryear back into view. We’re always given that last chance before we make a poor decision. I can see the me from way back, or even in recent times, ready to make the wrong choices.
This man from around Listowel used to go to the local cinema every night. John Wayne was a big draw and his films were often screened several nights in a row. The cinema man had been to the John Wayne a couple of times and when it came to the bit where John rode into an ambush of baddies and low types, the cinema man shouted: “Watch out, John – they’re hiding behind the rocks!” The movie of life is set and cannot be edited. I often felt like shouting: “Watch out, Bill!” But I was too late. The crows started nine minutes ago, at exactly 7. 46am.
They’re still at it. The crows take longer than I thought they would to leave the wood. I had it in my head they flew off pretty much straight away, but no – their tree-top serenade has turned into a prolonged conclave.
The worriers return to the world at dawn. I have no notion now of joining the priesthood. Too many rules, and what would I do with the wife and children – have them excommunicated?
And what does your grandad do? He’s a monsignor. This may be presumptuous of me. Promotion, and not a day spent in Maynooth.