I was talking to a friend on the phone today with whom I haven't conversed in months. What a delight it was to have a bit of fellowship and to laugh and share a bit with this dear woman. Toward the end of our conversation she said, "I'll let you go now. You are probably exhausted from trying to be cheerful." She was serious and I was floored. She was absolutely right and how did she know? I enjoyed the conversation but physically, I felt like a deflated balloon. A little laughing, a little smiling, a little chat...and I was ready to collapse into bed.
I was so grateful for that moment of recognition and compassion. Many people don't think like that. And don't notice. And in spite of public moments of lighthearted smiles and chatter there lies a very isolated and lonely mama. How many times in the past weeks have I smiled attentively while consumed with one thought: "Help me, Jesus."
My constant consolation is that this will eventually pass. But it does occur to me that illness does not always pass and some people never rise out of it. They have to push through each and every day with no assurance that it will pass this side of heaven. Others carry deep emotional and mental pain that goes with them everywhere. I don't usually know who they are.
Who is smiling and chatting with me and all the while praying "Help me, Jesus." Who is weeping inside while I unknowingly take up their moments of energy? Are they happy to have my company? Do I ease their burden or do I increase it? Are they silently praying someone will notice their isolation and misery and carry them a few yards through it?
What if this illness were permanent? That's a difficult thought.
At Sunday Mass this past week I was too ill to stay in the pew with my family and I retreated to the cry room. And when I found I was alone, I did cry. Buckets. I felt so alone even though surrounded by my loving family and parish community. I felt so weary and unable to carry my burden. I was unable to receive Communion.
After Mass, we were visiting with our community and priests as we always do and enjoying light conversation. Father turned to me suddenly and asked if I had received. When I confirmed that I had not he asked if I would like to. I was stunned. I looked to my husband because I couldn't think of what to say. He knows my burden and answered for me. Such a small act of thoughtfulness from both of them brought consolation they cannot imagine. I still could not receive but I felt strongly that I was surrounded by those who wanted to make sure I was taken care of. Even a small, small word carries a burden for a moment and makes a difference. They do not know what that moment meant. They didn't see me weeping in the baby room or hear the desperate prayers of my heart.
How many walk in pain for weeks, months or years with no one who takes the time to notice? How many lost opportunities have we had to lift another's weight even for the briefest time with a word or act of generosity? I'm writing this down here hoping not to forget this lesson when my moment of misery has passed.
And if I ever have an intense suffering that will not pass, I pray that I will be able to cling to the hope of heaven as I cling to the hope of seeing the face of this child.