This past weekend I flew down to Texas.
It was for a baptism, meeting a future sister-in-law and seeing my mom and my dad who suffers from Alzheimer’s and cannot say all the things he thinks or know anymore all the things he once knew with startling ease.
We ate, we talked, we went to mass. We hugged, we did ordinary things like shopping for diet coke and jeans and making pot roast and folding laundry. We also tried to hang onto moments, to slow time. To freeze the frame when the baby smiled, to remember the words my father could get out and cram every moment with all the stories and thoughts and feelings that too infrequent visits allow to pile up.
It was a joyful luminous glorious sorrowful ordinary time.
At mass, I watched as my father followed my mother to receive. He bowed his head and took the Eucharist on the tongue. He then tried to follow his wife but the traffic to the cup was confusing and for a moment, he looked lost. Then my uncle steadied him by putting his hand on my dad’s shoulder and he received the precious blood. I breathed out.
Meanwhile, my mother realized Dad was not behind her. She was about to look about when my brother gave her a reassuring touch of the shoulder to show all was well. My dad was returning.
As a Godparent, I (along with the Godfather)was in the second pew with my sister and her husband and their newly baptized daughter. It was an unfamiliar church for my Dad, but he turned and he stopped. He looked at my face. Out of the packed pews and confusion, he pointed and nodded his head with a slight smile. “I know you.” the smile said.
In that moment, I flashed back to the first year I really knew how to swim. I’d had a tracheonmy for the first 8 years of my life and so at nine, swimming underwater was a wondrous new thing for me. I was at the YMCA pretending to be a dolphin or a seal or a mermaid. A man came swimming towards me and his face flowered into a smile. It was my dad. I had not recognized him, being lost in the wonder of being surrounded on all sides by water. When I did, I remember smiling back at him underwater in sudden recognition and then zooming upwards for a breath. Dad had been in the fog of his disease, but for a moment, saw me clearly. I was a mess for the rest of mass.
I was so grateful to see that moment, and all the moments before, the kindness of an Uncle, the comfort of a brother, the strength of a parish bursting with song and with children, the solid faith of my niece’s family, the whole of it, all of it, that it was hard not to have my heart both burst with joy and weep.
Saying those vows, receiving, and being present, anticipating a wedding feast in July, it felt a bit like heaven , in that all of time collapsed in that full moment. Yes my dad is dying, but he is still with us. Yes I live far from a lot of the people I love, they are still with us, in this family, this Universal Church.
It was hard not to want to love endlessly in that moment, despite all the known and hidden crosses in that Parish, in my own, in our nation, in the whole world and the whole history of this fallen, broken confused world. For an instant, I understood how grace breaks through the fog of our hearts and even when we are lost in our own worlds, calls us to really see each other, and come out of the fake world where we cannot last long and into the real place where we can breathe easy.
On that day, we will be walking, and we will see Christ’s face and He will smile at us. In that moment, when we recognize Him, our face will say, “I know you.” too.
Copyright 2012 Sherry Antonetti