Posted by: Bill Tracy | May 20, 2012

I Never Went Back

In the last stage of sadness, there are no longer any differences between tears and stones. The heart turns into rock, and the devils skate on your frozen blood.

-E.M. Cioran

Maybe I’m interested in what people are saying. Maybe I just look interested. Or maybe it’s that I’m meant to hear certain things. I don’t know. But the last thing I heard I can’t get out of my mind. It was a story on a bus. People tell me things; sometimes they stick. This one sticks.

Bus Stop

The bus stops here.

Oddly, I don’t know where this woman came from. She just appeared at the scheduled stop where I waited for a bus. She said hello. I asked if she knew when the next bus was due; she knew exactly. She was an easy casual conversationalist. I think you can hear a lot if you listen to casual conversation between strangers. Her car was broken, blown piston, and cost more than she had to repair. Her employer of three years worked to accommodate her dependence on bus schedules. She had had things in storage for many years, and she had a boyfriend and an ex-husband and grown children. It was a half-mile walk from her apartment to the bus stop, longer when it rained and the fields were covered in water. Nice walk on a beautiful day like this, not so nice in the cold and wind and rain.

I’m never sure what the etiquette is once the bus arrives. Does the conversation continue, or was it just “passing time” to stave off an awkward silence? And I still have some guilt over a similar conversation that began at a stop and continued on the bus some months back. We were enjoying each other’s company when she realized she had left her tote bag at the stop where she got on. So she had to get off and run back to the stop, having to wait for the next bus, 30 or 40 minutes later. Not my fault, I know, but I still feel really bad about it. She’d have remembered her bag if I hadn’t distracted her.

My storyteller in this instance got on the bus first. I didn’t presume to sit next to her, but I took a convenient adjacent seat. That left continued conversation entirely optional. Turns out we had both grown up in the same town, briefly gone to the same high school, although 20 years apart. Religion reared up with the elementary school experience. She had gone to public schools; I did eight years with the Catholics. She said all her public school friends went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes, a religious education program the Church provided for children not blessed by a Catholic school education. Even though she was not Catholic she asked to go to the classes, but her mother forbid it. Oftentimes we simply want what we can’t have.

At age 22, my bus companion joined the Catholic Church. She seemed to glow a bit when she described being baptized. Or maybe it was just the sun in the window behind her. And then for years she went to church every Sunday. Now she had what had been denied.

Behind the Wire

Sometimes they keep God behind the barbed wire.

The bus doesn’t seem a good place for gory details. Her life had turned sour. She said something bad had happened, an emotional crisis. “I was a mess, and I didn’t know what to do,” she said. It was a Sunday afternoon, and she rang the doorbell of the Catholic Church rectory wearing only tears and pajamas. “He didn’t even look at me,” she said, describing the priest who answered the door. She said he simply looked off in the distance and pointed to a sign by the door that showed office hours. As she turned to go, he sternly said, “It’s Sunday, come back tomorrow.”

At a loss and not knowing what to do, she went into the church building. Perhaps she would find solace even if there were no answers. She sat in a back pew and noticed the few older women scattered about saying their prayers. She looked up at the big crucifix above the altar and desperately asked, “What do I do?” After a few quiet, tearful moments, she heard a voice, strong and clear. That voice said to her:

“This is my house, but I am not here.”

She then looked at me and said, “So I never went back.”



  1. “It’s Sunday, come back tomorrow” for real? God must split His sides laughing at us, when He’s not crying. No sense of irony in the priesthood, I reckon. In contrast to this, a local church stayed open for prayer for people of all denominations during 9-11 and continues to do so. They are always open for business!

    I do believe God, or Christ, has left the churches, or rather the churches have turned away from God for all the usual tiresome reasons: power, sex, greed, ego and misplaced sense of tradition and correctness. Although it is sad to see people’s trust so violated, I think in the long run it is a good thing. The most meaningful relationship with God, Spirit, Source or the Creator is a personal one, not one codified for convenience or politics, enforced by shame and used as a cudgel to control. In a way it is a blessing that at her lowest moment your companion was shown that the institution could not, would not, respond and that she could rely only on herself and her relationship with God. Sounds like she was already tuned in to a higher channel than the Church, anyway.

    Great story, Bill. Thank you!

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