1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


David Shields January 25, 2010

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…. That’s the way we Catholics start out confession. Then we tell the dress-wearing figure behind the grid or Holy tapestry about all the bad things we’ve done. Unlike a few Protestants claim, we are not praying to a mortal. We’re praying to God through the mortal, supposedly one ordained, certified, and anointed by God Himself to intercede on behalf of the sinners. How is that different from the guy who is “called” to preach? Or from those who take literally 16 Mark 17:18 and take up the snakes?

True, no matter how learned and pious, he is still mortal. I'm not a good Catholic so I don't know for sure, but the guy in the dress, for us, is just the referee and God lays on his heart the proper instruction or penance to give us sinners.

Anyway, after the confession he gives the sign of the cross and tells us to, “Go in Peace and sin no more.” Whether or not we are forgiven depends entirely upon our future behavior, I think.

Of course, there is much Biblical authority for the confession. One upon which Catholics depend heavily is found in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Be as it may, I write this preface to lay the groundwork for the confessions that I, from time to time, make here in this column. You see, by my reasoning if confession to the priest is good for the soul then confessing to the world is that much better. Now having said that, I wish to make a confession:

The sin took place many years ago in Alderson, the West Virginia hamlet where I grew up. What makes it a particularly heinous sin is that I took others with me down that road to perdition. I’m not sure I can remember exactly how it all came to be, but I’m sure that I can remember the main parts.

First, I wielded a good deal of influence over my friends at that time. I know this because everybody was all the time calling me the ringleader. In retrospect, I suppose I was. I also figure I came to this position of influence because I was a good street fighter and was destined to be a pretty good athlete in that time and place. Also I could hold my breath a long time and stay underwater long enough without surfacing for air to cut loose the river docks at Camp Greenbrier and let them float down to the bridge in town where they lodged in the shallow water.

The next day when the "sissy" counselors who worked at the camp came down to get their docks and pull them back up river to their rightful place we would gather on the bridge and throw cherry bombs at them. It was easy to convince others that this was heroic behavior as all the sissies at Camp Greenbrier were all foreigners, meaning they were from out of town.

Of course, no one knows how leadership comes to a boy. It just comes. And it’s there. And everybody feels it. But however it came one thing seems certain. It didn’t take much in a town with less than 2,000 inhabitants and a killer football team.

But such a situation is fraught with danger. It is awfully easy to fail when you have such awesome responsibility, as I did one lazy, summer day there on the banks of the Greenbrier when four or five my friends and I gathered to plan the day’s activities. On this day, for reasons I have never understood, I decided the gang should split up and go to as many stores as possible and see who could steal the neatest things.

We put a time limit on the caper after which we would all meet back at the hideout to inspect our booty and bestow the “Best Thief” title on the one most deserving. I even told the gang that even though I would be out stealing, I would take myself out of the running for the grand prize. That was ample motivation because everybody, including me, figured that I would be unbeatable as a thief. I think that assessment was based on the fact that I had won all my fistfights for the past year or so, no small achievement given the fact that I was called upon to defend my title at least once per week.

So it was that we spread out through the town to the grocery store, the drug store, the five and dime, the hardware store, and what have you to ‘shop’ and lift whatever caught our fancy. As it turned out, half the gang got caught and every one of them fingered the rest of us.

In fact, after we were all herded up at the police station all the thieves pointed to me as the ringleader. I resented them doing that at the time, and if memory serves I whipped every one of them over the next few months after I worked out my restitution at the stores we had hit and at home. But it has just occurred to me that I never told them I was sorry for this massive failure in leadership. And I can’t remember whether or not I’ve confessed this sin before. Doesn’t matter, repeating a confession can’t hurt anything. Forgive me, Father….