I don’t remember much about having my babies. It’s a foggy time, really. I find myself periodically asking my husband to tell me the stories, like child who likes to hear the same favorite fairy tale over and over again. I guess it’s a ‘mommy fog’, made up of adrenaline, hormones, fatigue and pain medication (yes, I’m a huge fan of pain medication). Maybe God gives us mothers this grace so that we’ll have more children. Because if we remembered every tiny detail… well….
Colleen is my youngest. My fourth child, my baby. With her, there is one story I remember quite vividly.
Evidently, on the postpartum floor, having four children makes you a legit ‘Professional Mother’, needing little care, advice or privacy. The hospital was crowded that day (yes, it was a full moon) and so we ‘experienced moms’ were placed in double occupancy rooms. As I was rolled into my room, I looked up to see another mom staring at me. I’m sure we both had the same shocked expression on our faces. “Really? I’ve been through ALL this and now I have to share a hospital room with a STRANGER!?” We each had enough space for a bed, the bassinet and a chair, with a nice curtain to tuck us each into our respective square feet.
Once we were each settled in our beds, babies beside us, the husbands met at the curtain’s end and shook hands. “Congratulations. Girl, too eh? Yeah, girls are great….” and that was it. They came back around, wondering if their snoring would keep the others awake that night.
We didn’t talk much, the other mom and I. I never even got her name. At one point she hobbled past me to the bathroom. I said, “Just so you know, I’m going to try to get out of here as soon as I can. Not that I don’t want to share a room with YOU. I just don’t want to share a room with anyone. I’m hoping they’ll let me go before 24 hours are up.” She smiled. (She had red hair – I remember that.) Her curls shook with soft laughter. “Yeah, I’m outta here, too!” We nodded to each other in mutual ‘expert’ mom sympathy and went back to our sides of the curtain.
Soon after, visitors arrived. Her parents and her two other children along with an aunt and uncle or two crammed themselves into her half of the room and my mom, husband and children huddled in our half.
There was the loud hubbub of talking, laughing, of baby squeaks and ‘Aw, isn’t she precious” and “When is it MY turn to hold her!?”
A few minute later, once everyone was in the midst of a loud chatter, the door opened and a man walked in. He was from one of the local parishes, the Extraordinary Ministrer of Holy Communion, on a mission this particular Sunday to offer me Holy Communion. I recognized him and knew his wife from some parish work a few years before. He was well-dressed, with nicely ironed khakis and a starched plaid shirt. In his hands was a small golden pyx, which contained our Lord in the Eucharist. He was not a man of many words. He looked up and simply said, “Let’s pray.”
He read the Gospel for that Sunday in a calm, steady voice. He led us in the prayers before communion. The Lord’s Prayer. And we received Jesus.
As we began, I wondered what that clan on the other side of the curtain might think. I hoped that they wouldn’t mind a little Churchiness going on just a few feet away. For a moment, I felt apologetic, in a preventative sort of way – as if our prayerfulness would in some way interrupt their special moments as a family. And after a few seconds, I thought brusquely, “well, such is life. I didn’t ask to have a shared room….”
The strange thing is, half way through our short little service, it became quiet on the other side.
The other side of the curtain.
The chattering died down slowly to silence.
The man finished up, put his prayer book and pyx back in his coat pocket, smiled and left to go find the next hospital room.
And I heard a man speak lowly from the other side,
“That was beautiful.”
At the time, I was just glad they weren’t irritated with me. But the words are now solidly embedded in my memory.
Now, I think back and it seems like it should be analogous in some way, this simple moment in time: to how I live, hidden behind a curtain, with my loved ones, my faith, even my Jesus. How very much I tend to keep these most precious things all to myself. How I close myself off, and rarely go outside to even let someone happen upon what I believe, not to mention actually intentionally sharing that with someone.
I stay tucked behind my curtain, desperately hoping not to disturb anyone.
But that day, someone heard through the curtain, and they weren’t repulsed. They were moved to silence. I imagine them looking around at each other, mid-sentence. Shrugging their shoulders, then looking down at the flecked linoleum floor, and listening.
“That was beautiful.” They said.
That was beautiful. Because it IS.
I came across this the other day. From our Holy Father, spoken on during Holy Week, at his Wednesday audience. “This Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes …. to ‘step outside’ towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith. Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.”
And so, HE knows. He knows our temptations. Our comfort at staying right where we are, not really eager to step a toe outside our safe little world. But we must, really. Because it all really is so very beautiful.
And others might like to listen.
Amen, my dear Pope Francis. Amen.