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Starting Point

Truth happens when we reach for friendship


She was a rectory housekeeper and lived in a one-bedroom apartment that had a bath and a rear entrance, right off the kitchen. I will call her Helen.

She was married once, but her husband beat her and left her. They had no children.

When I would visit my friend who was the pastor there, we would sit in the living room. Once I heard the moving of plates in the dining room. My friend said it was Helen, who would leave the table partially set; then, if she heard voices in the living room, she would come out from her apartment and finish setting the table and move a few things around. She was, he said, lonely. My friend raised the TV volume so we could have privacy, and Helen soon left the dining room.

My friend told me Helen was a good woman, deeply hurt. On occasion she drank too much, but he understood that, knowing she was lonely.

Helen had a friend. Her name was Eileen and she lived at some distance from the rectory, across a river. A great bridge spanned the river. Its two enormous spires could be seen from anywhere in town.

Eileen was a retired secretary who lived alone. She had never married. Helen had met Eileen on a bus trip the two had taken to a casino in another state.

My friend told me Helen came to him one night and told him she was troubled. She said Eileen worked as a cashier in a pornographic movie theater, that Eileen was the only friend she had, and was it a sin for Eileen to work there, and was it a sin to go meet Eileen in front of the theater on Sundays after receiving Holy Communion? My friend assured her that no sin was involved. His assurance encouraged Helen to tell more about Eileen.

She said Eileen liked the job. The men who patronized the place were friendly and knew her by name. She worked in a little glass booth, with heater and phone, and when the night was slow she managed to read paperback romance novels. The owners of the theater were kind to her. She was paid cash under the table.

I left soon afterwards, and went out by way of the kitchen. I could hear televised voices coming from Helen's little apartment. I stepped outside and it had started to snow. The towers of the bridge were bathed in brilliant spotlights and the falling snow looked like a million white moths celebrating some mythic and gargantuan festival of light. The snow swirled and blew. It turned out to be a blizzard.

Someone once said that the truth about us is never to be found here or there. It is something that happens between us, like when we reach for love, for friendship. The reaching is more real than the finding. Some of us cross bridges to reach the truths we know and love.

I never met Helen, but very much liked what I knew of her. I write this to wish her well, to wish her peace. If she lives, I wish her a snowless bridge and that her path to her friend may be driven with ease. I wish her a peaceful conscience and a good heart.

And if she has passed on, may where she now exists be a place where her table is always full.

Fr. Jeff Behrens is a novice at the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 1996