Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Reactions

This past weekend, I was in Southbend, Indiana at the 25th reunion of my graduating class from Saint Mary's College.  In trying to get back, I found myself trapped at the airport.  While waiting for someone to show up at the gate to give us directions and a touch of hope of leaving, I spied a classmate I hadn't had a chance to visit with, and we struck up a conversation. 

"So M---, tell me what's going on in your life."  I asked.
She told me about her job, her family, how much she enjoyed the reunion. Then the dreaded return question, "So do you have any family?"

I'd come to know the question would start a firestorm response and it did.  "10 kids?" "You have TEN KIDS?" By this point, other people waiting for the plane were staring.  A graduate clearly back for his ten year said, "That's insane." 

It was 5:30 in the morning, our plane had been delayed by three hours during which I could have been sleeping.  "Thanks." I said.  Not my best witness point I admit.

"No really.  That's so..." he searched for a word, "Catholic."  He quickly added, "I have two."  and put his book up over his face so I'd know the conversation was over. 

Another woman looked at her husband, "We would have liked to have more..." her voice trailed off.  Clearly the loss of not having haunted her. I'd had a conversation with another woman that weekend who pined for more but was refused.   There were echo memories of pain from the loss of having more to love everywhere and I felt like a giant reminder, not always the good kind. 

Today, I went to buy donuts for my son celebrating his summer birthday with his class.  After purchasing three dozen, the man behind me whistled and said, "You're in charge of the party huh?" I smiled and said it was for my son's 7th grade to mark his birthday.  He congratulated me.  "How many children do you have?" he asked.  I was startled to get the question in this context.  "I have ten." I said and steeled myself for the reaction. 

I wish I knew how to write what he said, it was "Praise God" but in Arabic.  I asked him what it meant.  He explained that he was Muslim and from Turkey and children were a gift from God. He repeated saying "Praise God." multiple times and "Ten children!" in response.  I thanked him and took the donuts to my kids Catholic school. 

It's not that having one or ten children is the thing, but the reaction to the existence of children is the thing. How is it that in a theoretical bastion of Catholicism, my having ten seems more shocking to the everyday sensibilities of strangers than when standing in line to buy pastries in secular Gaithersburg, Maryland?

It was then that I was struck that if we really want to live a Catholic life, we have to stand out, be part of the world but not of it, and that God knowing I like to be liked, determined I needed to have this many.  Despite loving attention, despite loving to talk, I would balk at witness that singled me out, so God devised a means where by I could not escape witnessing. But standing out is hard, particularly when you go to places where you don't expect to stand out. 

That's so....Catholic.  Really?  To me, the woman who says she has seven and wears a smile even as she mourns the loss of one of her children, this is so Catholic, the woman who stands in the pew near me in mass and sings her heart out even as I know it is partially breaking for having to touch on the brokenness in her life, a divorce and a starting over, this is so Catholic, and the woman who soldiers on, gracious and to my mind, tolerating the intolerable as she repeats over and over again how she is not married and has no children but does so to each new eager face who asks with equal graciousness of spirit, this is Catholic. So Catholic is not a number of children or how many holy cards I have in my purse, or how many decades you say, it is how you treat others and why you treat others as you treat them, because you hold to love, to Christ first.  What is so Catholic is not the outward appearance of a life, but the inward sacrifice of a life lived.


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LarryD said...

Great post, Sherry.

Plus - I wanted to leave a comment that wasn't spam. ;-)

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!