A Miracle All the Same

11/20/17


A miracle is that we could do the will of God, the priest said.

He was quoting a story by Father Anthony De Mello that addresses the heart of where our spirituality goes wrong. "In your land, it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will," the native tells the inquiring traveler. "In our country, it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God."

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I couldn't see her face during the funeral mass to say whether she cried. I was in the very back pew wrangling the embarrassing circus that is my three wolfish boys. Although I suspect my most wiggly one would do better if seated closer, my autism spectrum one feels safer in the back. The toddler will be loud either way, but no one minds about toddlers.

So I saw her back only; her starched dress and careful hairstyle. When I hugged her before the ceremony, she'd had no tears in her eyes, and it struck me that maybe her ducts had run out. Four and a half months, seven surgeries, never once taking her firstborn child home. Maybe there wasn't a single tear left in her. Her eyes were bare, almost vacant. I don't think I'd understood until that moment how the death of a child takes part of a mother's soul; but there it was, missing when I looked in her eyes.

I use words like embarrassing to describe my own children, and I don't move the cursor to delete them when I think maybe I should. My stretched abdomen tells of a date on the calendar that I simultaneously long for and fear. But my fears are silly ones: being overwhelmed and impatient, not getting enough sleep, not having time to work on my own projects. The post-childbirth fears I entertain do not involve poorly developed internal organs or months in the NICU. I have that luxury. My friend never will. Any subsequent pregnancy from now on will wreck her with anxiety, and no well-meaning platitudes could ever lighten her burden.

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We had all prayed for a miracle. We prayed she would live. Why would God let a baby die? I will never have an answer.

But a miracle is not that God could do our will, but that we could do the will of God. Hundreds of people crossed the Catholic-Protestant divide and became "of one mind as Christ our Lord" in financial provision, prayer, food delivery, and emotional support. Hundreds of people crossed culture and nationality to believe with one another for the life of a little girl and the well-being of her parents. The Church acted like the Church. We did the will of God, and it was a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

Mass is always a trial for my son with autism. When I explained that being calm and quiet during the funeral mass was a way to show our love and care for our friends' deep sadness, he looked me in the eye and said: "I want to do that." This, too, is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

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We got home from the reception and the toddler came down with a stomach virus. Twelve hours of throwing up and forty-eight hours of laundry ahead of me. But every time I held him tight as the regurgitated liquid ran down my t-shirt, all I could think was how she would give anything, anything, to be cleaning up vomit. How they went home together to an empty apartment.

The night before, I had sat at my own dining room table and wiped tears from my eyes as I explained to listening ears how heavy a weight motherhood has felt to me lately. I know it doesn't diminish someone else's enormous cross to confess that I have a small one of my own and that it's damned hard to carry sometimes, but I can't help but be assaulted by the perspective nonetheless. At least I have tears left to cry. I have never known that kind of drying.

How do I honor the life of this little saint in heaven and her empty-handed parents left behind? I clean up vomit. I diffuse sensory meltdowns. I endure Legos thrown at my head. And I do it with gratitude. Because to do the will of God is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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