Saturday, February 02, 2008

For Mary Ellen, Steve, and their girls

My 5th grade teacher was a nun who wasn’t a particularly warm woman but who, in hindsight, was a very good teacher. She’s one of those teachers who I think had more impact on me than I would have ever admitted at the time or that I even fully realize now.

On the academic side, she’s the reason I know grammar as well as I do. (All evidence on this blog to the contrary, I do know it, and it helped me immensely when I learned and taught French.) She is also the woman who taught me persuasive writing for the first time—something I grew to really love and helped push me into what I now do.

She also had a lot to say about God and religion. Those things didn’t stick with me quite the way her grammar lessons did, but every now and then I find myself going back to some of her lessons and realizing that, while they may seem trite or insignificant, she did have a way of making mystery and faith more accessible to the 10-year-olds sitting before her.

I can remember once, for example, that she described life as a crocheted picture. From our perspective, she explained, all we can see is the back of the picture—the loose string that hangs down, the knots, the imperfections, the mess. God, on the other hand, only sees the front of the picture—the smooth edges and the beautiful, seamless end product.

I realize that this is an overly simplified view of life—and of faith for that matter—but we were ten. We could understand not much beyond a simple explanation that said, “yes, life is messy, but there is a larger plan that does have a rhyme and reason and that does contain beauty and joy even when we can’t see it.”

It’s no secret that I still struggle quite a bit with religion and faith, but when I hear stories like what’s happening to poor Mary Ellen and Steve, I find myself going back to the simple explanations, like the one Sr. Carmel taught us in 5th grade. I don’t mean to imply that I think unfeelingly and simplistically that this is all happening “for a reason.” Rather, the only way my cluttered mind can make sense of the heartache and sorrow that some people are faced with—sometimes over and over again—is to say that I’m not meant to wrap my mind around it. It’s complicated and it’s so spectacularly unfair. And because all I see are the snarls and the mess and the pain, all I can do is provide whatever meager support I have to offer—no matter how insignificant it seems given the weight of the situation.

So, for now, ME and Steve, know that I’m thinking of you and your three sweet girls. I know that we’ve never met in person, but my heart—and the hearts of so many people in this community—is aching for you and your family. And, while I still am grappling with what prayers do in these situations, I am praying for you and hoping that better days, filled with beauty and hope, lie just ahead.

1 comment:

serenity said...

What a beautiful thought.