Blog by Steve Laug
It has been a long time since I posted a new Father Tom story. I have been fiddling with this one for quite a while now. I think it captures the thoughts that I wanted it to so I am putting it up here for those of you who have enjoyed the earlier stories to read. I am in the process of putting the earlier Father Tom stories into a book. I had hoped that it would be finished by now – but it is not. I may well get it done this summer as I have some time that I can spend writing as my travels for work are less this year. Besides that, I have three or four more Father Tom stories that I am working on that I will post here in the days ahead.
Father Tom closed his prayer book and stood quietly as the last people left the graveside and dwindled away. There were just a few people who had come out to the graveside for the burial service of the older woman he had just committed into the ground and God’s care. She had no family and very few friends in the city. She had outlived most of her peers in her hometown and had only lived in Vancouver for a few years – not a lot of time to gather close friends.Those who had come out were an odd assortment of people from her retirement home. Even the ones that came to the cemetery were mere acquaintances and really they had no fond memories of the deceased. It seemed to Father Tom that funerals always seemed to bring out interesting spectators. He had learned this through the years of his ministry. He waited in silence by the grave as they made their way back to their cars.
It was a sunny afternoon with no wind – an unusual respite from the normal October rains. The grass was dry and the gravel paths through the Mountainview Cemetery were nicely laid out. It would be a great place for some time to walk and think. He had ridden with the funeral director to the graveside and had told him he would walk home. He was looking forward to some time alone without interruptions or demands – just the quiet that only cemeteries offer. He needed the space and time to think and reflect; and God knows that he had lots to think about today. He had received some disturbing news yesterday.
As the backhoe appeared at the graveside to refill the hole he stepped back and reached in his pocket for his pipe and pouch. He opened the pouch and loaded a bowl with some new tobacco that he was trying. It smelled wonderful and the few bowls he had smoked of it already were delightful. It was just what he needed to move him from a place of fretting to quiet. He pinched some tobacco with his fingers and stuffed it into the bowl until it full. He put the pipe in his mouth and checked the draw as he lit the tobacco with his lighter. He tamped it and relit it. The second light took and soon he stood lost in his smoke, oblivious to the sounds of the backhoe.
He mulled over the news that he had received from Doctor Mac aided by the distance that a pipe gave him. The doctor’s office had called about some of the results of his recent physical. The doctor had wanted him to go for a bit of blood work prior to the physical and he had complied. The trouble was that the lab had not sent the results in time for the doctor’s visit. That was no big deal normally. His blood work was usually clear so it had caused him no worries. But the doctor’s office had called and said they wanted him to stop by as there some concerns regarding his blood work. He always found that kind of call unnerving. His mind spun through a list of horrible possibilities. He hated that tendency in himself but that was where he always went. He hoped that the walk home through the quiet cemetery, smoking a bowl or two of tobacco would take his mind off his worries and give him some much needed perspective. The pipe always gave him the ability to look at his concerns from a distance and weigh them objectively. It was one of the reasons he loved his pipe and considered it his favoured companion.
As he walked along the path through the cemetery he was transported from the uncertainty of the doctor’s news to a place of quietude that a good pipe delivers. He was lost in the flavours, the textures of the pipe, the smells that invaded his senses and the cloud of rich smoke that gathered around his head and trailed behind him. His mind was quiet and his scattered and anxious thoughts slipped away with the cadence of puffing his pipe. Slowly he disengaged from his fears and troubles, calmed by the familiar comfort of his pipe. In the quiet space that it created he recited one of his favourite prayers from the AA Big Book – The Third Step Prayer and relaxed. The words like the smoke lifted his thoughts outward. Here are the words he prayed.
The Third Step Prayer
from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Copyright © Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
Praying those words and puffing his pipe he made his way homeward. Finally he was able to have a bit of perspective that enabled him to cease struggling and be still in the midst of the questions that had earlier plagued him. He would face tomorrow as tomorrow came. He had well learned the lesson that each day had trouble enough in its own right to have to borrow more from tomorrow. He finished his first bowl as he crossed King Edward and headed down the hill on Fraser toward Kingsway. He paused on the north side of the cross walk and loaded another bowl of tobacco to smoke for the remainder of his walk.
When he arrived at his home, he opened the gate and climbed the stairs to his porch. Standing at his front door he found himself wondering about what to do for dinner. He had given Mrs. Conti the day off so he was on his own. He put his keys back in his pocket and sat on a chair while he surveyed the options from the comfort of his porch. He continued smoking his pipe without a thought of the concerns that had captured him in the cemetery. With his mind made up he went down the stairs, out the gate and headed up the street to his favourite Chinese noodle house. A chicken hot pot with some spring rolls on the side would do him well. He could sip some nice Oolong tea and enjoy the quiet space while he waited for his dinner. Besides that, Eva, the waitress there knew him well and knew how to keep him on his toes.
With his pipe still in his mouth he pushed open the door of the Noodle House, greeted Eva, the waitress he had come to know from years of eating in the same establishment and went to his normal booth. Eva brought him a glass of hot tea, and without a comment regarding his pipe laid a menu down in front of him. Both Eva and Tom knew he did not need the menu but it was part of their ritual. He took his pipe from his mouth and laid it down, picked up the menu and thumbed through its pages. Eva chuckled as he finished and ordered his usual. He sipped the tea and turned the pipe over in his hands while he waited for the hot pot to arrive. Once again his mind began to worry at the impending doctor’s visit but quietly repeated the prayer he had prayed earlier in the afternoon. Just as he finished Eva brought the clay pot of chicken and vegetables. She gave her standard warning as she placed in front of him, “Be careful, very hot, very hot”.
She turned and left Tom to his own devices. She had long ago learned that he liked to at least pretend he knew how to use chopsticks and the soup spoon. He picked the tools up and opened the lid of the hot pot. The aromas of the baked mixture rose to his nose and he began to navigate the bowl. He ate in silence and savoured the meal. It was always good to eat a hot pot at the Noodle House. It satisfied his hunger and left him feeling satisfied. When he finished he tamped the tobacco in his pipe, put it in his mouth and went to the counter to pay his bill. He stood inside the door and lit the pipe, waved to Eva and headed home.
He hesitated on his front porch, not wanting to go inside and have to start thinking again. So he sat on a chair and finished his bowl of tobacco and enjoyed the end of a good bowl. He tapped out his ashes over the edge of the railing and went to the front door. He turned the key in the lock and went into his home. He hung his hat and jacket on the hall tree and went to change into his comfortable clothes. He shed the collar and black priestly uniform and put on his favourite flannel shirt, cardigan and jeans. He slipped on his moccasins and headed out to the parlour. It was time to have a sip or two of good bourbon and enjoy another pipe while he read for a while. No one knocked on the door, the phone did not ring and as the pipe went out he soon fell asleep in his chair. In the morning when Mrs. Conti came in to make breakfast she found him fast asleep in his chair. He still clasped the pipe in his hand and the empty bourbon glass sat on the table next to him.
“Poor man. It must have been a hard day with the funeral and such. Not an easy job for any human being. Hmmph”, she said as she made her way to the kitchen. She went about her morning ablutions of creating Father Tom’s standard fare. She knew what he liked and as a creature of habit rarely if ever veered from his normal pattern. She made a pot of fresh coffee that brewed while she fried the bacon. She sliced some of her home made marble rye bread and prepared it for toast. She laid out the table for the breakfast and waited to cook the eggs until the good Father finished his morning ritual. She had worked for him long enough to know his routine. She knew that very soon he would make his way to the kitchen. She waited to hear him rouse and then would pour a cup of coffee and have it in hand when he came through the kitchen door.
The smell of coffee and bacon soon roused Father Tom and he sat up with a start. It took him a few moments to orient himself to where he was. He rubbed his eyes and took in the parlour and had to chuckle at himself when he realized that he had slept in his chair. He emptied the pipe that he had in his hand and refilled the bowl to smoke with his coffee. He lit the pipe and once he had a good burn on the tobacco he got up and stumbled to the kitchen for the cup of coffee. When he came through the door Mrs. Conti held out the cup of coffee to him and he took it with a nod of his head. Not a word came from his mouth. The smoke billowed from his pipe as he stood there with cup in hand. He took his first sip and sighed with contentment. Mrs. Conti had long ago learned that he did not communicate until he had had that coffee. He sipped the first cup of coffee as he made his way to the shower and finished it as he adjusted the water. He stood under the water for a long time just letting the spray wash over him; slowly but surely he began to wake up and his mind began to recognize his world.
He turned off the water and dried himself off. He brushed his teeth and then reached into the tin of tobacco that sat on the counter top. One of his habits was to leave a tin in almost every room. That way no matter what room he was in he could load a bowl. He filled the pipe, packed it and drew on it. It was perfect so he lit it with the lighter in his pocket. He ran a comb through his hair and adjusted the clothes he had on and made his way to the table. As he passed through the kitchen he could see the eggs were frying in the pan. He poured himself a refill of coffee and took a pull on the pipe. He savoured the good taste of the tobacco and sipped his second mug of coffee. He felt almost human. He finally was able to say good morning to Mrs. Conti and made his way to the breakfast table.
The place had been set; he laid down his coffee mug and took a sip of the orange juice that was waiting. He set his pipe on the table and took a deep breath. Mrs. Conti brought him a plate of bacon and eggs with a side of toast and jam. He settled into the morning ritual of breakfast. There was comfort for him in repeated patterns. He repeated the prayer from the day before and finished his breakfast. He pushed back his chair and sat for a while finishing his pipe. He was quiet and thoughtful this morning – no harm in that. He thought about getting dressed for the day and then walking to his doctor’s office. All would be okay with the impending doctor’s visit today. He would move ahead a day at a time and see what awaited him.
Before he left the table he refilled his pipe and lit it. He sat quietly for a few more minutes until he had the pipe smoldering well. He sipped on the smoke and let the cares of the day ahead fall off him. It never ceased to amaze him how the smoke of a pipe seemed to slow down his mind and give him the ability to cast off his cares. It seemed that there was something sacramental almost in the very act of smoking a pipe. Whatever it was it had the ability to lift a pipeman above his troubles and give the space needed to refocus his thoughts. He dressed and went back to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Conti he would see her later. He closed the front door behind him and headed out the gate for the walk to the appointment. The distance to the office would give him time to enjoy a bowl or maybe two and prepare for whatever news that awaited him there.