It was the beginning of a new school year, and the middle school and high school teachers at Beckman were beginning to fall into a familiar routine. David taught across the hall from me. He was a convert, so he was something of a translator between me and the
Catholicity of our school. He’s the one who taught me how to make the Sign of the Cross so that I could open all my classes with prayer and not stand out as the foreigner, the Evangelical Protestant, in a world that was completely Catholic.
We both had small children of our own; I suppose that’s why the news at school that morning rattled both of us so completely. One of our fellow staff members had lost her infant son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
We fought back tears, hugged each other, felt the flash of pain that came from remembering the first year of our children’s lives. How we’d checked them in the middle of the night, placing a hand on their chests or backs to be sure they were still breathing. How we’d wake them sometimes, accidentally, because they seemed so still that we couldn’t be sure. How the first birthday had been a celebration, a milestone that marked the end of that fear and the beginning of many different fears. We couldn’t imagine what our co-worker was going through.
What do you say to someone who is living your worst nightmare? How do you find words to match the empathy you feel in your hear? I chose to say very little. I prayed, and I hoped that Christ would intercede, because I simply didn’t know what to do or what to say.
Thankfully, Christ does intercede for us to the Father, so that every request, every praise, every thanksgiving is right. It doesn’t matter if our words are eloquent or break every grammatical rule in the book. When we pray, we have a Lord who edits our prayers so that they are perfect.
I’ve learned a few things since that year of teaching. I’ve learned that there are no good words to share that will ease another’s pain. I know this, because I have gone through my own season of mourning.
I’ve also learned that if I must go through pain or loss ever again, I want to do it as a
Catholic. Even the most senseless tragedy – perhaps especially in the most senseless tragedy – there is a source of comfort in knowing that we can offer up our sorrow. We can stand with Our Lady and lift up our pain with her, and offer it all to Jesus
I have come a long way from those early days as a non-
Catholic first-year teacher in a Catholic school where I first made the Sign of the Cross.
And all that I have learned is somehow bound up together in that Cross, a mystery I understand better and better every day.
Thanks be to God.