It was the seven-year-old’s birthday. At religious ed the night before, I willed myself to look forward to the prayer time, since it would be in the Sanctuary where Jesus is, and sometimes we say the Rosary or have Benediction. But unfortunately the prayer turned out to be “Praise singing.”
I’d been hankering for something solemn and silent, but our music minister usually does praise singing at a tempo too fast and a key too high for my voice, and sometimes she steps away from the piano in an attempt to lead us in hand motions–raising our arms to “Lift your name on high!”– spreading our arms to the side when the Lord comes from Heaven to Earth to show the way. It’s so vague yet obvious, so fluid yet awkward, so loud and yet still somehow spiritless. I couldn’t do it.
I took the opportunity to leave the sanctuary at the baby’s first peep, then went outside to say the Rosary while walking through the Church cemetery. In our adult religious ed class, we’d just talked about Hell and Purgatory, and I felt a need to pray for the dead who remain powerless to obtain their liberation without our prayers. It seems impossible that our pagan world could ever do its part for the next, while we continue to supplicate the Communion of Saints for our own liberation.
I saw a headstone with the last name of the Contractor we’ve had out to the house in order to obtain a couple estimates. He was a really nice guy who understood our situation because he had been one of seven kids scrunched into a three bedroom home growing up. His estimate was way over our budget, and it seemed like he knew it would be from the beginning.
“You’re a real nice family,” he said, unspoken implication: “You just can’t afford me.” And he was right. But I did like him, he was just the kind of short, stocky, kindly-faced man you feel sort of ok about writing checks to.
The headstone had his last name on it, and as I walked around it, I could see that it was for his parents who were not yet deceased. They had also engraved the names of all their children on it, including our contractor. There was a smaller headstone nearby for one of the children, our contractor’s brother, who apparently died at the age of seven.
Even thirty years ago, seven-year-olds didn’t die except by some terrible and untimely tragedy, and my imagination carried me away a bit: car accident? Bicycle wreck? Fell out of a tree?
When my seven-year-old woke up on his birthday, he asked for eggs for breakfast. I made them for him, then we all sang happy birthday before school, but we were still groggy in the morning, and afterwards, he noted all the different ways we were distracted while we sang to him. I was washing coffee grounds off my hands. My oldest was fiddling with the spoon drawer. Two of the kids were fighting. And my husband was…I don’t know, but he said, “Surely you can’t expect us to sing to you AND give you our undivided attention too, can you?”
The boy laughed, fortunately, but I had been stung for a moment in recognition of his absolute preciousness.