By Tom Holmes
Monday morning, Pastor Walter Mitty and his friend Michael were sitting in Bernie Rolvaag's Historical Buzz coffee shop about halfway through their caramel macchiatos when Fr. Bob Sullivan walked in and joined them.
"Clergy day off?" quipped Michael.
"Every day," Fr. Bob winked at Mitty, "except for Sunday, is clergy day off. So what is the hot topic of discussion today?"
"Old codgers getting married," Mitty answered.
"Walt asked me if I have ever thought of getting married again, ever since Rachel died," Michael said.
"And what was your answer?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. After Rachel died, I went through stages. At first, I was so self-absorbed with my grieving I couldn't imagine including another person in my life. The next stage was I got so lonely that I fell in love with every woman who smiled at me."
Pastor Walt said, "Twenty years ago, I went through a similar stage. Loneliness and raging hormones fueled my fantasies about, you know, like six or seven single women I knew at the time."
Fr. Sullivan blushed.
"To be honest," Mitty admitted, "10 years ago I had the same feelings. Then, I got so involved in Poplar Park Community Church — 60 hours a week — that physical and emotional exhaustion trumped my libido.
"I can relate to that too," said the Franciscan.
"And then I kind of got comfortable being single," Walt added. "I get a lot of affection and companionship from my men friends that my dad never got from the men in his life. He needed a woman to fill his emotional needs. That was the arrangement — he was the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, the rational part of the marriage. And my mom was the caretaker of emotional needs, the one who paid attention to relationships."
"You know," Fr. Sullivan added, "I don't know how diocesan priests handle celibacy. They seem to be all alone, while I have my order, which supplies a lot of the needs I suppose folks get met in good marriages."
"Besides," added Bernie Rolvaag as he set Fr. Bob's espresso on the table. "I was reading in a book on the history of marriage that half of the adults in this country are single. Following my divorce, I felt weird at first until half the people that came into my shop were divorced, widowed or never married, and I didn't feel so abnormal."
"Look at the four of us," said Michael with a laugh. "Misery loves company."
Mitty sighed, "Or birds of a feather."
"Why the sigh?" asked Michael, "Walt, are you thinking … I mean you've been up to Manitowoc twice last month alone, and you always say it's because your nephews need a male adult in their lives but …"
Now it was Pastor Walt's turn to blush. "And why did I ask you if you had thought about getting married again, right?"
"You sly fox, you. You keep saying you've made your peace with being single."
"OK, OK, but this is just between the four of us, OK? That year I took a leave of absence from the church to take care of my brother Herman as he was dying? They made a little apartment for me in the basement, so I would have some privacy, but I was a full member of the family all that time."
"And, I figured out that I liked family living better than I thought I would."
The three men looked intensely at Mitty. Expecting there to be more in the story, they asked in chorus, "And?"
"OK, I admit I got really close to Susan," said Mitty with his second blush in 10 minutes. "See, until Herman died, I wouldn't let myself have sexual feeling toward her. After all, she was my sister-in-law and she was off limits, even to my fantasies."
"But now she's available," said Fr. Bob, "I mean, as far as your conscience is concerned."
"That's right, Bob," Mitty answered and then sighed a second time. "But I haven't admitted that to her because one thing worries me." He sighed again. "Susan voted for Trump. I mean, she's not one of those redneck, racist, anti-immigrant Trump voters. She said she never held the guy up to Matt or Brian as a role model, and she voted for him only because of the abortion issue. She's a good and compassionate person, but still …"
"I hear you," said Bernie. "I read in a report from the Pew Center that only 20% of marriages tolerate partners from a different political party. Nowadays marriages between people of different races and even different religions seem to get along better than people who have different political world views."
"I mean, both Susan and I go to church every Sunday, and part of me keeps saying that voting differently shouldn't matter if Jesus' love is the foundation we build our life together on."
The four men, each single for their own reasons, had trouble with the Pew report, not because it wasn't factual, but precisely because it was. Faith in God and the love of Jesus should trump the political divisions in this country.
Fr. Bob finally broke the silence, "So, Walt, what are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure. Part of me says I should come out and tell her. You know, let her know how I feel and take the risk of finding out where she is."
"But you're afraid," said Bernie, "that she won't feel that way at all and learning that you have romantic feelings will spoil the good, family-like friendship you have with her and your nephews, right?"
A fourth sigh. "Exactly."