when mercy moves

easter-breadThis Sunday Sarah and I sat in the choir loft, where Craig was holding court in the bass section. It was going to be the last time he was able to sing in the choir before we move to our new home in Phoenixville. And though he hadn’t been singing with them for more than a year, it was clearly a struggle for him to let go. To leave. To start over.

Me, not so much. Truth is, I have a bit of gypsy in my blood. A kind of restlessness creeps in as the time gets closer for the new adventure. The boxes packed, the electric bill switched, the new house leased. A rush of excitement as I think about being able to unpack all our things that have been languishing in temporary storage.

And yet, as we drive home I cannot help but feel the weight in the car. “Moving stinks,” Sarah volunteers. Craig grunts. I recount all the wonderful things in store: the new au pair who is coming from Germany. The park with swings in our backyard. The big deck for summer barbecues. The beautiful new school we get to visit early in May. And yes, the new parish that has both an adult and children’s choir. Good things, all of them.

Still, the silence. And in that moment, I realize: Those strains of mercy needed most, are those we dispense when we are least disposed to grant it. In the classic work The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spoke of the Shining Ones who retrace their steps back down the mountain to meet the bus with those from the Gray Town. The grass cuts the feet of those phantom spirits. And yet the Shining Ones urge them farther and higher.

At Easter we remember those whose worlds are touched with gray, that the Spirit would make our joy contagious.

stuck for good

“If I had any other choice, I’d leave.” It’s funny, really, how many times I’ve heard that phrase recently. It’s been spoken in several contexts, but always with the same conclusion: Circumstances beyond their control were keeping them in situations that were otherwise . . . just short of intolerable.

Listening to the sad stories, I was struck by how much they had in common:  In every case, the pain of the present was caused by an injustice of one kind or another. And in each case, their reason for not rebelling absolutely against said injustice was the same:

In a word, love.

For love we hunker down for all kinds of reasons: to provide, to protect, a promise kept. For a spouse, a parent, a child. We endure the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unjust. All because love compels us to stay.

Here’s the thing: There comes a certain point in life when you realize that running away only delays the inevitable. Because sooner or later, everyone takes a place under the celestial microscope of suffering. In truth, it’s the only way for the really important virtues to take root and grow: humility, detachment, and faith. Plodding through the valley of shadow, we glimpse a sliver of light on the horizon and allow ourselves to hope, however faintly, that better times are in store.

We are stuck, to be sure. But it’s only a matter of time before we find our way back for good. In the meanwhile, we dive, knowing that even in this awful, uncomfortable, frustrating place, there are lessons to learn. There are people to love. There are infinitesimal fragments of grace.

Thank you, God.


Remembering Aunt Rosemary … and a little boy

Today I was waiting for Sarah’s kindergarten class to emerge from the school building at pickup, and noticed that Kristi, the Pizza Mom (who collects order forms and money for the weekly pizza lunch) was trying to alphabetize a stack of forms nearly as long as my arm.

“Can I give you a hint?” I asked her. I told her how we used to communicate with my Aunt Rosemary, who had contracted Lou Gherig’s disease at 35. We broke the alphabet into four parts, and had her spell out words by blinking her eyes when we reached the right letter: Adolph (A-H), Girl (G-L), Manner (M-R) and Stay (S-Z). So, if the word was “picnic,” she would blink on “Manner,” then again when we reached “P” (“M-N-O-P. P, okay… next letter.”)

To this day, when I have a ton of filing or alphabetizing to do, I break everything down into four piles, then subdivide from there. Goes much faster.

The story of Aunt Rosemary led to a general discussion about suffering, and I told Kristi how becoming Catholic had made such a difference in how I perceived pain. Suffering was no longer pointless, but a process by which we are purified and even transformed.

Then my eyes fell on one of the papers in my stack, and my throat closed up. Before I could steel myself, tears filled my eyes. It was his.

One of the children at the kids’ school shares the same name — first and last — of the child my sister gave up for adoption when she was seventeen. The long, drawn-out process left everyone in the family a little bitter about the family court system … ultimately, the baby was given to his biological father, who has a criminal record, rather than the Christian couple my sister had selected, who had promised to allow the child to have a relationship with us as he grew older. Instead, the father took the baby and swore none of us would lay eyes on his son ever again.

Today Andrew would be just about the same age as the boy at my kids’ school. And so when I hear this boy’s name called out in assembly, my heart skips a beat. It’s not the same kid, of course … but somewhere out there I have a nephew I will never know, and who will likely never know about me. I pray he is healthy and happy. But barring a miracle, I’ll never know for sure.

From time to time I stumble across websites that are dedicated to birthparents or first parents. In their pain, these mothers can be bitterly dismissive of adoptive parents — as though all of us are rich, self-entitled baby stealers who say and do anything to get what we want. When I encounter women like this, I try to empathize. Their pain and regret is infinitely greater than mine, for whereas I lost a nephew, they relinquished their own flesh and blood. Often under duress, and never eagerly.

I wonder how often they hear another child being called on the playground, and feel the cut of loss. Whether that loss is a beloved adult relative, or a helpless infant who never knew your name … you never entirely get over it, do you?

Heavenly Father, how it must have pained you to send your Son out into the world, knowing the fate that awaited him there. Watch over your children who have suffered similar loss. Make us gentle as we tend to the invisible wounds of those closest to us. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.