Betty Duffy

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who is thy neighbor?

My daughter had a fever over Thanksgiving, high fevers, through which she talked in her sleep as though someone was antagonizing her. I'd go to her when she shouted, and try to wake her up, just so she could escape whatever hell was going on in her mind. But being awake was no comfort to her. "Let me sleep!" she said pushing a glass away when I tried to get her to drink.

For the better part of three days, a smell took over the house, sweet and bitter, and it was her breath. At the doctor's office for the second time, he said, "That's how we know she's not getting enough to drink."

"She won't take anything," I said.

"I know this is difficult stuff. But if she doesn't get enough fluid, she'll end up in the hospital."

Difficult stuff. Give the patient water. It'
s basic sick care. I pictured Mother Theresa's nuns administering hospice to the dying. When care can only be palliative, water is still not optional. "When did we see you thirsty and give you drink?"

But for some reason it was difficult. She wouldn't stay awake long enough to finish a glass of water. She said it hurt to drink. I didn't want to hurt her.

When I explained the predicament to my husband, he said, "I'll get her to drink." And he did. He lifted her head, holding the glass, giving her no other option but to drink--which suddenly, I realized, made more sense than my gentle cajoling. Love may be gentle and kind, but it is not stupid; it doesn't stand by in matters of life and death for fear of causing discomfort. We worked out a situation, where he would get her to drink during the day, and I'd take care of her at night.

The fever would break on and off over the course of six days, for an hour at a time, then spike back up. Sunday morning when she woke without fever I had no confidence it would stay away. But it did, and the tired, thirsty girl regained her strength.

Meanwhile, I was losing mine. Monday, I did not get out of bed. I spent all day sleeping and reading, while the three year-old drove a toy tractor up and down the length of my blanketed leg.

The following day I awoke to the sound of my husband plunging the toilet in the bathroom. The shower was running and emitting a cloud of steam while it waited, empty, for a body to wash. I could feel my eyes, swollen with sleep, and a heart full of dread at the thought of another heavy day. I was awake, however, awake and feeling as though I might actually get out of bed.

The kids were getting dressed for school and one or two of them had already arrived at the breakfast table. I made sandwiches for their lunches. The children ate quietly, which almost never happens. My husband arrived at the breakfast table, plumbed, showered, and dressed for work, and sat holding one of the baseball bats he'd turned on the lathe the night before, showing it off for the boys.

The five-year-old asked, "Which do you think Daddy likes better, me or his baseball bat?"

The older boys raced to get out the words, "His bat!"

"No! He likes me better! He told me!" he looked to his father for affirmation, which my husband gave him by lifting his brows and nodding agreement. And then the five-year-old scrolled through all the kids asking which one Daddy liked better between the child and the baseball bat.

I felt a sinking feeling--failure again--at the thought the boy could even have the question. Why are the simplest things the most difficult for our family?

I could recognize the question as the absurd wonderings of a five-year-old mind, as well as the beginnings of a test, the same one I put my own parents through as a child and young adult. What do you love better than me? Would you still love me if I said I hated you? Would you love me if I was a sinner?

Once I had ascertained that there was nothing I could do that would cause them to stop loving me, I began to take their love for granted. Then I was free to keep myself together for my own sake. There was no reason to do anything for the sake of pleasing or displeasing them, but because I loved them back.

It was the feast of Saint Andrew, and we read about the apostles putting out a drag net, pulling in everything they can catch from the bottom of the sea to be sorted out later. I think of this time, while the kids are little as the drag net. Gather them in. And when they mature, God will sort them.

I never let myself be despondent for more than three days in a row, which is either heroic, on my part, or terribly self-indulgent. There's a leaden feeling, and a failure feeling, all of a piece with the fight against the latent virus.

Nevertheless, on the third day, I rose from the bed. I dressed and left the house.

It was Wednesday night, religious ed. at Church, which begins with dinner at 6, followed by class, then Benediction. We were late as usual, which meant that every seat was taken except for a couple near the Smith family, which was no cause for alarm, except that one of my boys is afraid of Grandma Smith, because she's nearly seven feet tall and gray-haired, and there really is no one I've ever seen before who looks like her. Being tall and elderly, she also has a lot of joint and health problems, and that is what one talks about with Grandma Smith.

I thought it might be good to sit next to Grandma Smith because nodding with concern was about all the conversation I was good for that night. One of her grandsons was with her, and she asked him to scoot his chair over and make room for us. He didn't want to scoot over, because he and one of my boys frequently engage in minor competition over who made the best lego spinner of the week. He doesn't usually win.

"And who is your neighbor?" Grandma Smith said to her grandson. The boy looked at her blankly, so she turned to me and said, "I tell them to love their neighbor, and then I say that their neighbor is whoever crosses their path--not just the ones they want to love, and not just when they feel like it." She asked the boy again who his neighbor might be, and finally it sunk in, that we were his neighbors, and we were there to crowd him out of his seat. He complied, though he continued to hover around for conversation.

Grandma Smith told me about a trip she planned to take to Florida that had to be canceled for health reasons. And I nodded with concern.

Then her grandson related a youtube video he saw in which a train raced a tornado and the tornado won. So Grandma took the opportunity to tell me about her computer habits and policies. She told me about her technological confusions. I nodded with concern.

When the bell rang we went to class. I've often thought that there is nothing worse than sitting in a conference room listening to apologetics lectures, but watching videos of people sitting in a conference room listening to apologetics lectures is definitely worse--a point I look forward to writing to our DRE in the anonymous end-of-class surveys.

I welcomed Benediction that night; no voices aimed in my direction, no response required on my part--incense, silence, song. Could it all be so lovely? Could my neighbor always be mute Christ in a Golden Monstrance?

Good grief, He's everywhere.


Lizzie said...

My goodness, this Advent I'm struggling with my neighbours in every sense of the word. I needed this to know I'm not alone in it! Thank you - I'm feeling very challenged to love in the little things at the moment...
God bless Betty

MrsDarwin said...

Hope you're feeling completely better soon.

I've known a few Grandma Smiths in my time, and God love 'em, they've all been better women than me.

Lizzie said...

ps I really hope you and yours are all better soon.

BettyDuffy said...

We're all better now--and really, I think I was just tired from being up at night. Never got a fever. And no one else got it either, which is sort of weird.

Mrs. Darwin-- a better woman, indeed.

kate said...

Well Betty, now you have me wondering about your Wednesday night RE classes. Are these a class offered while the kids are in their own? A video of others watching a video of apologetics!? Gee whiz!
I'm in Los Angeles, director of formation in a good sized parish - slightly aghast to think this is happening anywhere today. We use video Bible Studies (Great Adventure series is GREAT) and will soon begin using Robert Barron's Catholicism - maybe those would be other options. Unfortunately (for me) our RE classes are only during the daytime - no way to get parents to participate easily.

BettyDuffy said...

Our Parish has a wonderful situation set up where adults and kids receive their catechesis at the same time in different rooms. There's a nursery for the toddlers, and nursing babes stay with their moms. It takes a lot of hands to put it on, but there's been good effort on all parts. I sort of hate to mention the program we're using, because my opinion doesn't make it bad. I'm a visual learner not an aural one, so The Great Adventure series has not worked well for me (I think I said video of people watching a lecture rather than video of people watching a video). My husband came one time, said it was like watching paint dry, and I can't pay him to come back. We're currently on the biblical timeline with Jeff Cavins. Before that was the Edward Sri one, and before that was a church history one with somebody Weidenkopf? There've been a couple other ones as well. "Apologetics" was the wrong term for me to use, when I meant to implicate any video of a man standing at a podium and talking for thirty or more minutes. And I don't discount the whole system of The Great Adventure--technically, the home study, paired with group discussion, etc should draw in all different learning types.

The Catholicism Series would be a welcome alternative (imo).

Nayhee said...

Oh, you must've updated. I kinda liked it better when it was just "Good grief, He's everywhere."

BettyDuffy said...

Nayhee, I liked it better that way too. Matter of fact, I'm changing it back.