Take last week: Serena plays the trumpet in the sixth grade band at her school. The other kids in her class have been playing for two years, but she just picked up the trumpet this year, so she has had to work very hard to keep up. The band was practicing for a concert that was to take place last Thursday evening. All that week, their director threatened that if the kids didn't practice, they would have to play "Jingle Bells" with the fifth graders, instead of the more difficult jazzy arrangements they'd been practicing for months. Serena practiced so hard and had perfected the trumpet parts for the difficult pieces, but a couple of the kids in the band defiantly refused to practice -- and they even had solos, so that their inability to play the pieces was obvious. When Wednesday arrived and the music still wasn't working, the director announced that the whole sixth grade would indeed need to play "Jingle Bells" with the fifth grade. Serena was bitterly disappointed. And this experience showed me something new about Christ's presence in our unity -- if one member of the band doesn't play, doesn't follow his or her music, then the whole suffers. My daughter's disappointment revealed something of the pain that we often cover over or ignore. We just play "Jingle Bells" and pretend to be satisfied with it -- or blame our dissatisfaction on the conductor or the music or even on the people who wouldn't do their work. Pointing fingers, trying to locate the source of guilt is a way of avoiding the truly painful truth: that we need one another, that we can't play our part without the others.
Since our Advent retreat, I have been trying very hard to live the three rules that Fr. Roberto gave to the group of junior high kids, the Knights, with whom he meets:
- God is proposing something great to me right now
- If I see it, I will tell the others about it
- If I don't see it, I will pray the Memorare to be able to see it.
I sat down at a table covered in wrapping paper, scissors, and tape. Only one other volunteer was sitting there, and we introduced ourselves. After a few moments, another woman joined us. I introduced myself to her, too, but oncewe had exchanged names, it became clear that the two others were great friends and didn't want to speak with me. After trying (and failing) to jump into the conversation a couple of times, I thought: I know that you are proposing something great to me right now. Please help me to see it. Then I prayed a silent Memorare. My next thought was that when the first kids brought us their gifts to wrap, the three of us would work together, and a sense of unity would begin to blossom through sharing a common work. Imagine my surprise when a bunch of kids showed up, with multiple presents, and as I began to wrap one of them, the woman beside me took it from my hands and said, "We can take care of that." They didn't even want me to work with them!
So, I looked around the room until I spotted another table with just one woman sitting at it. I approached her and asked whether I could help her, and she graciously accepted. Many children had just arrived, and we worked beside one another, and it was indeed clear that sharing a common work is a sign of unity; however, something even greater became apparent to me. The children who brought us the gifts which they had chosen in love for the people whom they loved best, came to us with their hearts open. Just one friendly question or observation about a gift, or the way they addressed a parent or grandparent (Pappy? Poppop? Grammy? Nona?) brought out a flood of affection from them. There is something so disarmed about children. They will give their whole heart in exchange for a kind smile. I could discern, from listening to the conversations at the other end of the table, that my fellow volunteer was having the same experience. I was reminded that (Duh!) my vocation has always been toward children -- even before I was married, this was evident to me. If I had gone on with my own plan, that my reason for being there was to make new adult friends, I would have missed the best thing.
What most moves me now is a profound affection for Fr. Roberto, who first told us about the three rules. By following his authority, I was able to verify that life is indeed richer, fuller, more life, by following his indications.
I was able to attend five out of six of the Nutcracker performances this year. Also, many more of our neighbors came to see the girls dance this time. It is really amazing that anyone comes, because the school and the theater where they perform is almost an hour away, and the weather is always a little dicey. Their presence with us is a clear sign of our belonging. Two great things that God proposed to me during these performances (aside from presence of my neighbors, which was truly great):
- Serena turned in flawless performances as the ballerina doll during all six shows. She hates to be noticed; she hates to be the center of attention. She has never wanted a lead role in a ballet, and when she heard she'd be the ballerina doll, she was terrified! It was hard for her to receive her First Communion, because she worried that people would be looking at her. The same worries surfaced during Confirmation. On both of those occasions, I really doubted that she would be able to go through with the sacrament. One of the promises that I had made to her, as she was preparing for Confirmation, was that if she could bear to step forward so that the bishop could anoint her and lay hands on her, she would receive great power, which would help her in the future.
- Sophie fell twice and lost her Arabian wig once during these performances. Why was this so great? It was great because these flaws did not define her as a person or as a dancer. What was most impressive was the way that she got up immediately and continued the dance, with the same smile and the same superior technique. And when her wig fell off, there were no titters to indicate that anyone in the audience had even noticed.
There is more, but I have already gone on for too long. Ciao!