Tuesday, November 27, 2018

companions

It is funny, the companions who arrive when we least expect it.

There is a small statue of Mary that I pack with me constantly. I do not know why Mary comes with me to the Carolinas, to weddings, on work meetings back to South Bend, accompanying me day after day—but I do know that she represents something.

And I love her, this small Mary who has shepherded me. She juggles the lamb of God in the crook of one of her arms and a small little lamb in the other. She carries them all and she carries me as well.

Mary represents a vision and a vocation—a vocation not only to bring Christ into the world as all people bring Christ into the world: a universal human vocation. She represents, in particular my vocation, to make Christ present through words, to bring the Word of life to life in my own life. In moments when I cannot pray (there are many) I think, as I hold onto this small statue that I am at least reminded of the life I should be living, and the heart I should be loving with, and to be reminded of it is to not lose sight of it entirely.

Both times, as I've flown back to New York from South Bend, I have sat next to precocious children unafraid to speak.

Do you live here? asked the small girl as we were landing.
Yes, I said. And I showed them pictures of my neighborhood, and the quiet Sugar Hill brownstones in the fall.
I've never been here before! she shivered with nervous excitement.
I think you'll like it, I said, but sometimes it takes some getting used to.

Next to me on the plane this time, there is a mother with two young children. She has a unique accent: I later learn that she is Romanian. The elder of her sons dutifully watches Inside Out, mesmerized by the screen the entire time. The other, a small tot of 11 months, clambers over her lap, shrieks with excitement and coos at any passenger who will look his way, grinning with glee. He chuckles and smiles, and chews on his small plastic walkie-talkie to soothe his aching gums which are just beginning (I'm sure) to sprout teeth.

I lift up the armrest, and he sits in the space between his mother and me. I help him look out the window at the clouds and city lights. I teach him to say: "wow" at the bright city below him. I show him Thomas Merton’s picture on the cover of my book.

I am enchanted, by the baby’s smile, by his mimicking of my “wows” until his entire face becomes just one single expression of wonder.

Being around a child is so important, I remember, because it reminds you of how gently we ought to hold others—even hard-boiled adults. People walk up to us with stories they are right in the middle of, and we do not know where they have come from. They, perhaps, don't even know what they are coming out of, what they bring with them. You have to hold not just them, but their story, gently.

It is so easy to forget this.

How you interact with anyone is high stakes, because even the smallest gesture has the ability to wound, but interacting with a child reminds you of this, because all of your interactions are first impressions as they teach a child what to expect from the world: teach him or her to expect that the world that greets him or her each morning will be polite, will take him or her seriously, will treat him or her with kindness.

These children, like the miniature Marian figurine, are small companions who contain within themselves a call back to oneself and one's vocation to pick up the world as if it were Christ or a little lamb and cradle it in your arms with kindness.

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