Jacob started to feel the weight of responsibility, having taken Mark’s debt and somehow transferred it, even if only emotionally, onto himself. He said nothing, because in normal life, not quite in the middle of the middle class life, thirty-thousand dollars was a lot of money. Maybe it would not cripple Mark financially, but the context as much as the amount swirled in a toilet water kind of mess. Gambling, well, that was not a black-and-white issue. Lying to your wife, however – that was cut clearly. And this was not a white lie (whatever that is), about taking out the trash or something like that. This—this—this was a year of prestigious university education. Or a nice car. And all squandered on a game where cards fall in random stacks.
Jacob knew he had to say something.
“Bro, you’re in freaking deep man.”
And, then, silence.
“I know man.”
“You have to tell Amy,” Jacob demanded.
“I know, bro, I know.”
“And you’ve gotta tell the other elders.”
“And,” Jacob seemed almost to thunder in his stern tone, “you have to confess it in church.”
Mark said nothing, but looked at Jacob. Mark was shrinking in stages before Jacob there, and Jacob himself seemed to grow in authority over the man who had been so great (imperfect, but great) in his eyes. Jacob’s world was swaying before him, like a Jenga tower. The tower would come so close to falling, or sometimes it would topple onto the table into its dozens of pieces. That’s how Jacob felt – Mark’s confession had pulled a block from the tower, and now the framework of Jacob’s entire reality swayed in uncertain motion.
Maybe you think I’m overstating the situation.
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s just some credit card debt.”
Well, the thing itself indicated a fracture in what Jacob called certainty. Surely, he knew better than to view a man so highly. He knew that men fail, maybe more often than they don’t fail. But Mark had been so much to Jacob – a mentor, a friend, an older brother. For Jacob, he and Anna were a lock, solid, a thing he could count on. In a filial way, he and Mark had grown to be that way. And Mark broke a trust built up, lying and showing himself to be something Jacob could not recognize.
It rocked him.
Jacob knew, consciously in the muddle of those moments, that the pieces could be picked up, and re-stacked if they fell. That, even, perhaps, the tower might remain, shaky but un-toppled.
But all of it was, for Jacob, profoundly uncertain.
He knew that a weight had been given to him, and that he had been appointed for the coming times.
So he said to Mark, “Man, you have to tell Amy today.”
“Well, today is tough, it’s—”
“I don’t care, man. You have to tell her right away. You can’t keep lying to her.”
Mark assented by silence.
Jacob knew he might be wrong, but compassion for Mark was absent just then. That could come later. Right now Jacob was angry and he wanted the tower to stand. He knew this was bigger than a “do better” and talk about consolidating debt and paying it off. Too many people had a stake in Mark, and Mark had jacked them around and pulled out integral piece of the building he had constructed. First of all Amy, and she had to be told, and immediately.
“Dude, call her, and tell her you need to talk to her.”
“I know, bro, you’re right. But – man – I’m scared to freaking death. I feel like I’m going to puke.”
When a man is ill, his strength drains from him and, bent over a toilet, he becomes weak, and pitiful. Helpless, in a shrunken down, child-like, “Help me” kind of way. That man sat, across from Jacob, a sandwich with two bites gone on the plate in front of him. And that absent compassion came over Jacob, so that he suddenly put himself into that seat, Mark’s seat, and began to feel Mark’s place and not merely his own.
The transfer had completed, Mark onto Jacob, in its multiple facets, and Jacob now sought to bear up his brother; he turned, in that gray world of dreaming, and bent down to help.
“I know, bro,” Jacob responded, “It will be a freaking mess, man, we both know that. But she loves you, and it will be worse if you drag it out. You’ve got to start getting stuff straightened out, starting with Amy.”
“I know, man, I know. It’s all gotten so freaking huge, and part of me thinks, you know, it’s not like something people don’t deal with every day. I owe ten times that on my house.”
“You know it’s different than that, Mark,” Jacob said, with the quickness of draining compassion. “You know this is big. It’s not that you’re just a man with a family. You’re a pastor, God’s people look to you and look up to you. And you’ve freaking messed stuff up. This is ten times bigger than your mortgage, because it’s not just thirty grand. Thirty grand is huge, for guys like us. But you’re right. You can pay it off. It’s what the thirty grand came from. It’s about trust, man. It,” Jacob breathed in deeply, “is about sin.”
And Mark, again, answered by silence.