When we moved to Maryland back in the Winter of 1995, I wanted to go to the March for Life. It was a frigid January and with our only son not yet two, I let prudence dictate otherwise. There would be other years I thought. My husband agreed, “You won’t always have a toddler.” That statement satisfied me and so I didn’t go.
For the next 11 years, toddlers continued to give me my out from signing up or even considering participation. Then my oldest entered 8th grade and I realized, he would make it to the march before me. I contented myself with having a proxy. Three years later, my daughter entered 8th grade. I would have two proxies.
But my 4th grader has a unique nature. Peter’s spirit is like a rich vein of precious ore surrounded by massive amounts of heavy unyielding rock. I spend a lot of time going round and round with him, trying to blast through the rock. There is no child for whom I spend more time talking to God or going to confession to work on my patience, my charity and my endurance. He honestly knows how to push every button with everyone, every time. But sometimes, the ore reveals itself unbidden. He asked at the beginning of the week, “Are we going to the march?” I demurred without answering.
He asked again two days ago. I said “I’d watch the weather to decide.”
Today, I woke up to him and his sister having a serious spat. It put me in the wrong place immediately. After getting everything sorted out, I began the routine of breakfast for everyone and checked my email. A friend had written a beautiful piece on her journal about the value and beauty of life and witness we are all called to show to the world to keep all children sacred. It was all the more poignant because she had lost her youngest to cancer back on October 14th. Her daughter would have been three two days ago.
Peter asked quietly, “Are we going?”
And the answer had to be yes. It was ten thirty. We weren’t dressed. We weren’t packed. It was starting to sleet but the answer was yes. My silver ore child made peanut butter sandwiches and baloney ones, and packed apples and oranges. The sister he’d fought with, helped. I swung through getting the littles dressed. We roused the 12 year old who wasn’t really moving yet to get herself going, packed the car and loaded the stroller.
All the time, I threw occasional prayer demands at the various saints. “If we’re going to do this…we’re going to need help.” I explained. “Saint Rita of Cassia, patroness of the impossible task, this qualifies.” “Saint Anthony, help us find a way to get there and be on time.” I rattled off my stresses, my worries. Thousands of people and me. What if it’s freezing? What if I lost one? How would I find them? What if one needed to go the bathroom? I thought of all the countless ways things could go wrong as I gathered up as many gloves as I could. They wouldn’t match but they’d be warm.
I’d also read a piece just that morning in the Catholic Standard asking us to meditate on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the “power” of the Holy Spirit, and knew that this moment, like saying yes to the first child, to every child, was one of those moments where one had to shut one’s mind eyes and free fall with God.
The sleet stopped and the sun came out. No one needed the facilities. No one got lost. There were squabbles. We saw priests and nuns and handicapped and young and old, long haired surfer type dudes from Florida, four bus loads from New Orleans, a couple with seven from Michigan, a mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome from Ohio. Countless people stopped to help us with the stroller or to hand back “piggy” who my daughter insisted come with us, or to count them or to ask how many. One guy took a picture. Paul, my youngest was blessed by almost every priest we passed, including a Bishop Benjamin who told me he had three siblings with disabilities. Peter handed out the sandwiches and held a sign until he got tired of it and started using it to tap his sisters on the head.
Pushing the double stroller through the mud and ordering my walkers to keep their hands on my shoulder, I wondered what my kids would take away. My first thought ran to “their mother was nuts. It’s crowded. I’m cold. I’m hungry. Why aren’t we riding the carousel?” My resolve at the march felt silly in light of the logistics. Then, the kids saw a banner held by two parents of a child with disabilities.
It read “90% of all Down Syndrome children are killed in the Womb through Abortion!” Even the seven year old looked at me and asked, “Is that true?” “Yes. It’s very sad.”
I could feel my sons and daughters close ranks with their baby brother at the thought. The speaker asked everyone to say the Hail Mary and the march started. We had come and witnessed but I felt I’d asked all I could of them. I told them we were going back to the car. Everyone cooperated with such lightning compliance, I knew it was the right call.
Walking back from the Washington mall, my kindergarten son chased squirrels, everyone remembered they were hungry and a few complained about all the walking they’d done. We went to a favorite chili bar for large late lunch. I thanked Peter for asking and asking and asking and he gave me one of those rare million dollar pleased looks he has, as he softly mumbled “You’re welcome.” and gulped down his cheese burger and chocolate milk. They each talked about what they liked best. Of course for the five year old, it was chasing the squirrel.
Having gone and survived, I know that this will happen again and again. It will be part of the year because all the excuses have been taken away. I know it will happen because my richly veined son Peter loves it. Also, their mother is nuts.
Going to the march was like exercise or prayer or sacraments or anything else in life that is good. I often reject the opportunities to be present, for things less meaningful, less important. Grace waits for all of us to come around. I can’t tell you how often I don’t want it, I want to refuse it, put it off or ignore it as long as possible. But God waits. Once we go and say or do what God asks, we discover it was greater and bigger and more beautiful than we could have imagined, and we don’t have the excuse anymore. We wonder why we put up such a fight in the first place. It’s all that hard rock surrounding the ore.
Thanks Peter for being such a rich vein, and reminding me that all of this life is supposed to be a freefall with God.
Copyright 2010 Sherry Antonetti