The weight of debt… is soul crushing.
Like the Marina Trench. The deepest part has millions tons of pressure. That’s what it feels like to have debt pressing on me. But debt isn’t just that you owe, it’s the want. The desire. The greed. The street lights appear darker to me when out for an evening stroll. You can become reckless. What’s driving without a seatbelt? How much more damage could I owe? How much more money could I throw on top of this debt? Maybe I should cause the police to chase me. Land myself on the 6 o’clock news complete with aerial footage. I hear they charge you interest on the fuel they used for you from the helicopter.
I got in a fender bender once because I zoned out thinking how all this could be paid off. The guy started cursing me out, but left. I can only assume it looked like I didn’t understand the English language. I know I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve had dreams of befriending a multi millionaire, only to realize that my debt would soak them dry. To get clear of this, I would have to befriend a multi billionaire. I wonder what Jeff Bezos is up to this time of year.
I woke up and I can see I was bleeding. There’s glass everywhere. Maybe this is it. Maybe I can finally be released by this cancerous debt. Death would be my only release. I must’ve blanked out again behind the wheel. The car is totaled. That must be $12k in debt. The tree trunk is damaged. That’s probably $30k. I didn’t even die. I stumble out hoping that I smell gasoline. Nothing. It’s just me, moping and flopping around the remains of my destroyed property. A sorry excuse. I looked back at the wreckage and saw my trusty vehicle sigh its last exhaust. I don’t have a wife or kids to pass on this glorious trash to. I never made it that far. Debt is like a disease. A modern day capitalistic type leprosy. It eats away at you. No one wants to look at you. Or deal with you.
I wandered in some Catholic Church. The doors were unlocked and the lights were dim. Such beauty in its architecture. Such history. So much mystery. The unexplained questions I never got the answers to. As a child, I became familiar with student debt. I grew up and chose the wrong degree because of an old bible study teacher. Middle aged. Thinning hair. Large pharmacy bought glasses. He said he hadn’t chased money because he found the Lord. I decided at that tender age that the bible study teacher’s life was not for me. I chose to be a doctor. Like the fake one you saw in soap operas. That was one terrible decision. IT took seven years before I changed my mind. But I still owed the money and soon, the interest started to grow. Some more bad decisions. Moving into cities and neighborhoods I couldn’t afford. An accident that led to surgery. All of that responsibility was on me. It’s hard to look happy or hopeful on this.
The church pews were dusty, but there was still a glow in the stained glass windows. I wondered if this church was abandoned.
“Are you lost,” a shadowy figure near the confessional booth said.
“Not exactly,” I said under a raspy breath. My ribs were still in pain and I could taste blood between my teeth. “Just pinned down under a lot of pressure.”
“Perhaps, you need to confess,” the priest said, stepping into the light. He motioned to the empty door and entered in his booth, closing the door behind him.
All I could think: glad I don’t have to pay money for this. I’d rather be poor than in debt.
“Bless me father,” I said, closing the door in the dark booth. I rolled my eyes to myself. I had completely forgotten what to say. “It’s been 15 years since my last confession.” I knelt down on the padded cushion beneath me. I could see the clergyman behind the thin, ornate metal grate, rustling about as he got comfortable in his chair
“Where were you,” the priest responded quickly.
“I was in high school.”
“No. Where were you,” the priest repeated. “All this time?”
I paused and meditated on his question. “Suffering, father,” I said squarely.
“The Lord says you have not because you ask not.” The priest recited with his left hand, rubbing his temple.
“I’ve asked father. There is no hope for me.”
The priest took a deep breath and waited in silence. I could see him blinking in the dark as he processed what I said. “What ails you my son,” he asked me finally.
I could see his eyes studying me through the grate. This confession felt different from the others I had experienced.
I leaned back and looked at my hands clasped together. My skin wrought together over the knuckles as I pressed and mashed them together. This was something I discovered I started doing several years ago; wringing my hands. To a man of the cloth, it would appear that I have my hands together, deep in prayer. But it was really stress. My skin looked like dough. My fingers were interlocked, like the money I owed that owned me. “Debt, father,” I finally whisper. “It’s too much. Everyday I wake and this huge boulder attached to my back gets heavier and heavier. The anguish… I am drowning, father. Only death can release me.”
I searched for his eyes. He resumed looking at the floor as he took in what I had just spilled out.
“How much,” the priest asked.
I paused and frowned in confusion. “$872,000,” I blurted out. I caught myself gasping for air. I had never said the amount aloud before.
“It is a finite number,” he said in a gruff voice. He was clearly shocked by the number, all owed by one man: me.
“It is not,” I said hastily, raising my voice. “Father,” I resumed in a whispering level, “there’s interest and everywhere I turn there’s something new that adds to it. I was engaged, father. My fiancée left me because of this. How can I prosper in the land of God with this weight on my neck?”
Silence. I could hear his raspy breath inhaling slowly and wheezing outward. It felt familiar to me. It sounded like me.
“Father,” I asked when the silence lingered too long.
“What are you confessing, son? What are you believing God for?”
“I’m telling you I have done this! It hasn’t worked!” I slammed my fist on the wooden shelf in front of me.
“What else is there then? Other than to take matters into your own hands,” he pivoted around as he asked me. His eyes stared right into mine, the metal grate partially obscuring his gaze.
I wasn’t sure if this was spiritual advice. “Father… I can’t.”
“Can’t tip the tides in your favor? You’ve done everything else. Haven’t you?”
I had come to this church in desperation. And now I had lied to a priest. I certainly had not done everything else, but the weight of debt can alter your otherwise sound decision making skills.
“You think I can’t understand the weight of financial debt,” the priest asked gruffly. “Why do you think I sought sanctuary within the walls of the Lord?”
I hadn’t thought of that. The Catholic Church forgiving financial debt. “You want me to join the priesthood,” I asked.
“I did not say that, son. I’ve been in the dark pit of despair and thankfully the clergy took me in and absorbed my debt, but the circumstances of my acceptance were clear. There’s no leaving for me. This is my choice. What then is your choice?”
His eyes pierced through the grate again. It became clear, the man sitting before me sought protection from his collectors because that was his only option. He didn’t want to join the church to spread the Word. His curious look proved that. He wanted to know what I would do in a similar situation. But, he was in a position of guidance.
“Perhaps,” the priest whispered, “perhaps you can talk directly with the ones responsible for your debt. And pray on them.”
“How would I do that,” I asked. “Besides, there’s too much money and it’s growing.”
“Each debt has a claimant. How many are there,” the priest said as he leaned in closer to the grate. I could tell he was more interested now.
“Nine,” I said, counting in my head.
“Then go to them. One at a time. Enumerate. Assess. Discuss. Terminate the debt. Then repeat it,” the priest said, confident in the advice that he had given.
I knew what it was like to be on the phone with collectors. They were ruthless and predatory. Father said discuss it over with the collector’s lead boss.
“This is suicide, father,” I said finally, imagining what the process would look like.
“Christianity doesn’t condone such behavior.”
“How do I discuss part of three quarts of a million dollars of growing dues for debt forgiveness?”
“You must not have understood me, son,” the priest said with a glimmer of a smirk. “You’re not asking for debt forgiveness. You’re taking what’s rightfully yours. A clean slate. And they won’t forgive you, you’re forgiving them. And when I said discuss, there is no discussion. I meant pray on them.”
I sat with his information. He was so direct in his guidance. “I never… prayed on someone before, father,” I confessed.
The man slid a key under the grate towards me. “Neither have I, but I have tools at my old place that will help you succeed. Take it and may God be with you.”
I picked up the key and stared at the man who was getting up to leave.
“You want me to prey?”