Betty Duffy

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Kindness

I hadn’t been to Adoration in a long time. Since we moved and have to drive long distances to get there, and since I have a lot of kids, I’ve let the habit slip. Last week, my mom had a couple of my kids in town, so I covered her Holy Hour with my two oldest and the baby.

I knew the baby would be all over the place, but assumed we’d be the only ones in the Chapel, and it wouldn’t be a problem. I did not expect the problems to arise from my boys, who are old enough to know that it’s inappropriate to make fart noises in the Chapel. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that we were not alone in the chapel, and that two older women were also there trying to pray, my boys were skidding their elbows on the wooden armrests until it made a noise guaranteed to set off their incurable snickers.

I tried separating them. I tried pinching them. I briefly considered murder, and when that thought crossed my mind, it occurred to me that it could not possibly be the will of God for me to be there at Adoration that day. Why would he call me there to get angry? Why would he put in my heart the desire to pray and then arrange the circumstances so that I had no choice but to fight?

The two older women, had already kissed the floor and made their exits, I assumed because of us, and I was about ready to chuck it myself, draw the curtain on our Lord, and finish outside the discipline I’d threatened to carry out in the sight of God. But after she’d been gone for awhile, one of those older women cracked the door to the chapel open again, and addressing my kids said, “Would you boys like to go outside for a walk so your mother can pray?”

She looked at me for a nonverbal permission, and I didn’t know the lady from Adam, but I willingly nodded my assent. At that point, if I never saw those boys again, I could not foresee disappointment.

I am not someone who easily puts my children into the care of others. In all the years that I have had children, only once have I hired a babysitter to whom I was not related. But I didn’t doubt for a second that the boys were going to be alright with this lady. More than alright. She was quiet and petite, but matronly, with gray hair and glasses on the end of her nose that gave her the look of a chronic knitter. Around her neck she wore the uniform of Adorers all over the world, a veritable charm necklace of Four-way Crosses, Miraculous Medals, and Patron Saints.

She looked Holy, which is an appearance about which I have never been mistaken. When someone looks Holy, they usually are (A Holy appearance being something entirely different from someone “trying” to look Holy). There is a preternatural openness or light in their eyes, and otherworldly equilibrium in their bearing. Take my children, Woman—take them! Do with them what you will! I know it will be better than what I was about to do.

And so there I was alone, with Jesus, and a brick in my mouth prohibiting any meaningful prayer because it’s hard to shake off anger like that, and I was long overdue for Confession anyway. What was the point of my being there, I was asking of myself, when I became aware of a chill working its way up my spine.

I could hear the kids playing in the courtyard, happy sounds, but otherwise there was this silence before me, and the knowledge that I had been done a kindness. I didn’t need any answers to the petty questions I had posed—there was this kindness that had been done for me. A perfect stranger had considered it so important for me to pray, that she had literally made it possible, because I wasn’t praying before, but her kindness to me gave me no choice but to pray.

Jesus wants me to be here. I had nothing else to say or to feel but gratitude and happiness. He wants me to be here, in his presence, which is something, I’m sorry to say, had not occurred to me in a long time.

This summer, for a number of reasons, has been a distant one for me and God. So many Sunday mornings spent in the little cry booth at our church, which is unventilated and heavily populated. For the first time in my adult life I have considered leaving a Mass. I actually didn’t want to be there, sat in that booth, unable to breastfeed a squeaky baby because of a well-intentioned Dad who was giving his wife a chance to pray in the Sanctuary. The quarters were too close, the baby too likely to lift my shirt of his own accord, and I was grousing through the Eucharistic prayer, and thought I might just leave. What’s the point?

He wants me to be here.

Whether I receive the Eucharist or not, whether I pray well or not, whether I have confessed my sins or not, whether I’m loving the people around me or wanting to wrench them. Just be there—sit it out, and the grace will come—maybe in the shape of a petite gray haired woman who has nothing else on her agenda but to do me a wholly unwarranted kindness.

The next Adorer on the schedule came in to relieve me—another petite, gray-haired woman with a battalion of Saints’ medals around her neck. “I’m here for the seven o’clock hour if you need to leave,” she said in a stage whisper. I made my genuflections and went out to find my boys.

One was following the baby around wherever he waddled, and the other was sitting on a concrete bench next to his hour’s guardian. I introduced myself, and thanked her profusely. But she answered back, “It was a blessing for me…these are very special children.”

“Yes they are,” I said.

In the car, my oldest sat in an uncharacteristic state of calm, his lips curled into a whimsical smile. “That lady was nice,” he said.


jan said...

i adored :) this post very very much. i laughed and i pondered and then both again. thanks for the reminder of kindness and Jesus wanting us.... xoxoxo

Otepoti said...

Oh, now I feel really bad for thinking of my children as "gollums" for even part of a day. They're not gollums; your boys aren't gollums either; but sometimes it takes grey-haired piety to point that out. So your unknown friend did us both a favour.

BettyDuffy said...

Don't feel bad, Otepoti. I've always had a soft spot for Gollum--more so than for the hobbits, for some reason.

lauren said...

How beautiful... reminds me of the time when I had a particularly challenging Mass and then, as I made my escape out the side door to avoid our priest (who couldn't be kinder...) a little old lady comes up and says, "Your children are just beautiful. Perfect. You are blessed!" and I really wanted to ask, "Can they sit with YOU next Sunday?" But, I didn't. I just smiled and nodded and said, "Oh... yes."

wifemotherexpletive said...

what i thought so beautiful, besides the 'you are wanted here' that you received, was the holiness of the woman's kindness. tears and all, over here.

Rachel Gray said...

Thank you for this post-- I loved it. Thanks be to God for women like that!

Gardenia said...

thanks be to God for women like YOU, who can learn from these situations, put it into words, and then help us learn too. It IS so true -- Jesus only wants us there. why didn't I know that? :)

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

What a great post and boy can I relate. I just love those kind, holy ladies who show up just when you're convinced you're never going to bring your kids anywhere close to Jesus until the Most Holy Eucharist until they're about 20 or so. My toddler once was loudly screeching during a weekly Mass. There was no way for us to escape because we were in a small chapel. We got some disparaging looks, but I also had two women come up to me afterwards and thank me for bringing my singing angel to church. The kid was NOT singing. They were being very, very kind, and their kindness was enough to make me feel like I could show my face again at daily Mass.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Re: "singing angel"

Hee! Some would say that screeching and drama makes your kid already ready for the soprano section! (I'm a soprano, so I can say that.) :)

el-e-e said...

Oh, how lovely. My heart is sorta caught in my throat. :) What a blessing. Glad Jen linked to you!

Anonymous said...

I smiled, I cried. I always seem to cry when I read truth. Thank you for this post.

Tara Sz. said...

mmmm...crying when you read the truth, amen to that.

Here from Conversion Diary, thank you for this beautiful post. God is good.

Roz said...

If this were Facebook, I would click "Like".

I'm reminded that unexpected kindness is probably the most effective evangelization. It is certainly a most effective encouragement. And it's cheap to offer.

Go, me, and do likewise.

Kristi said...

I found you tonight through Conversion Diary and this post while entirely entertaining, made me burst into tears in the end!