For three days a fierce winter
storm had traveled 1,500 miles across the Northern Pacific from Alaska, packing
gale-force winds and torrential rains. In the Sierra Nevadas to the east, the
snow was piling up and would offer great skiing once the storm had
In the foothills of the Sierras in the town of Grass Valley,
California, the streets were flooded, and in some parts of town, the power was
off where trees had blown down. At the small church, the heavy rain and high
winds beat against the windows with a violence that Father O'Malley had never
In his tiny bedroom, O'Malley was laboriously writing
Sunday's sermon by candlelight. Out of the darkness, the phone in his office
rang, shattering his concentration. He picked up the candle, and with his hand
cupped in front of it, ambled down the hall in a sphere of dim flickering
As he picked up the phone, a voice quickly asked, "Is this Father
"Yes," O'Malley answered.
"I'm calling from the hospital in Auburn," said
a concerned female voice. "We have a terminally ill patient who is asking us to
get someone to give him his last rites. Can you come quickly?"
my best to make it," O'Malley answered. "But the river is over it's banks, and
trees are blown down all over town. It's the worst storm I've seen in all the
years I've been here. Look for me within two hours."
The trip was only 30 miles, but it would be hard going. The headlights on Father O'Malley's
20-year-old car barely penetrated the slashing rain, and where the winding road
crossed and re-crossed the river in a series of small bridges, trees had blown
down across the river's banks. But for some reason, there was always just enough
room for Father O'Malley to make his way around them. His progress was slow and
cautious, but he continued on toward the hospital.
Not a single vehicle
passed him during his long, tense journey. It was way past midnight, and anyone
else out on a night like this would also have to be on an emergency
Finally, in the near distance, the lights of the small hospital
served as a beacon to guide O'Malley for the last 500 yards, and he hoped he had
arrived in time. He parked behind the three other cars in the parking lot to
avoid as much wind as possible, slipped into the right-hand seat and awkwardly
wrestled his way into his raincoat before stepping out into the wind-whipped
With his tattered Bible tucked deep inside his overcoat pocket,
O'Malley forced the car door to open, stepped out and then leaned into the wind.
Its power almost bowled him over, and he was nearly blown away from the hospital
Once inside, the wind slammed the hospital door shut behind
him, and as he was shaking the water from his coat, he heard footsteps headed
his way. It was the night nurse.
"I'm so glad you could get here," she
said. "The man I called you about is slipping fast, but he is still coherent.
He's been an alcoholic for years, and his liver has finally given out. He's been
here for a couple of weeks this time and hasn't had one single visitor. He lives
up in the woods, and no one around here knows much about him, He always pays his
bill with cash and doesn't seem to want to talk much. We've been treating him
off and on for the last couple of years, but this time it's as though he's
reached some personal decision and has given up the fight."
"The hospital staff has just been calling him Tom," she
In the soft night-light of the room, Tom's thin sallow
countenance looked ghostlike and behind a scraggly beard. It was as though he
had stepped over the thresh-hold and his life was already gone.
Tom. I'm Father O'Malley. I was passing by and thought we could talk a bit
before you go to sleep for the night."
"Don't give me any of that
garbage," Tom replied. "You didn't just stop by at 3:30 in the morning. I asked
that dumb night nurse to call someone to give me my last rites because I know my
deal is over and it's my turn to go. Now get on with it."
said Father O'Malley, and he began to say the prayers of the last
After the "Amen," Tom perked up a bit, and he seemed to want to
"Would you like to make your confession?" O'Malley asked
"Absolutely not," Tome answered. "But I would like to just talk with
you a bit, before I go."
And so Tom and Father O'Malley talked abut this
Korean War, and the ferocity of the winter storm, and the knee-high grass and
summer blossoms that would soon follow.
Occasionally, during the hour or
so before daylight, Father O'Malley would ask Tom again, "Are you sure you don't
want to confess anything?"
After a couple of hours, and after about the
fourth or fifth time that Father O'Malley asked the same question, Tom replied,
"Father, when I was young, I did something that was so bad that I've never told
anyone. It was so bad I haven't spent a single day since without thinking about
it and reliving the horror."
"Don't you think it would be good for you to
tell me about it?" O'Malley asked.
"Even now, I still can't talk about
what I did," Tom said. "Even to you."
But as the gray light of dawn crept
into the room and began to form shadows, Tom sadly said, "Okay. It's too late
for anyone to do anything to me now, so I guess I might as well tell
"I worked as a switchman on the railroad all my life, until I
retired a few years ago and moved up here to the woods. Thirty-two years, two
months and 11 days ago, I was working in Bakersfield on a night kind of like
Tom's face became intense as the words began to tumble out. "It
happened during a bad winter storm with a lot of rain, 50-mile-an-hour winds and
almost no visibility. It was two nights before Christmas and to push away the
gloom, the whole yard crew drank all through the swing shift. I was drunker than
the rest of them, so I volunteered to go out in the rain and wind and push the
switch for the northbound 8:30 freight."
Tom's voice dropped almost to a
whisper as he went on. "I guess I was more drunk than I thought I was because I
pushed that switch in the wrong direction. At 45 miles an hour that freight
train slammed into a passenger car at the next crossing and killed a young man,
his wife and their two daughters."
I have had to live with my being the
cause of their deaths every day since then."
There was a long moment of
silence as Tom's confession of this tragedy hung in the air. After what seemed
like an eternity, Father O'Malley gently put his hand on Tom's shoulder and said
very quietly, "If I can forgive you, God can forgive you, because in that car
were my mother, my father and my two older sisters."
Story by Warren Miller - Thank you...
It is far better to forgive and forget than to
resent and remember... ~Anonymous