Spirituality

The Little Lepers in My Living Room

When I dreamed about founding a religious order, I hadn't realized what I was inventing...

Why is Jesus crying?

Because he fell down. Because the banana broke. Because I said he can’t stuff the other toothbrushes down the bathroom drain. (He’d already gotten three down there.) Because he isn’t allowed to play the organ during Mass. Because Grandma only played with him outside for three hours before she had to leave. Because his sister said the new baby can be Dora if it’s a girl, but not Boots if it’s a boy. Because the helmet fell off the Lego guy. Because he is two, the world is big and everything is always broken.

My youngest son’s name is Henry, not Jesus, and he is perpetually mourning and weeping in this vale of tears that is his life. The disappointments come fast and furious, both from Henry and, more sporadically, his older siblings.

Once upon a time I was a single woman. I prayed the rosary. I reflected on Scripture. I attended daily Mass, made it to confession every two weeks and looked forward to the stations of the cross on Lenten Fridays. Now, my prayer life is a litany of “Please, Lord, help me through the next 10 minutes.”

The Church tells us we’re supposed to see Jesus in the faces of the people we meet every day. I’m mostly home with the kids. As far as I can tell, Jesus is somewhat hysterical, extremely emotional and has unrealistic expectations for how the world should work. And he’s crying again.

In college I ran with a very Catholic crowd. Sometimes we’d go to parties where African sisters showed up. (The kind a friend used to say were “So holy they practically levitated.”) At one party one of these kindly women grabbed my hands, looked into my eyes and said solemnly, “Someday you will do great things for God.”

In my young adult brain, this meant founding a religious order. Hugging lepers. Maybe even martyrdom in a foreign land. I decided I was going to found an entirely new type of religious order. Instead of single sex, it would be co-ed. Religious brothers and sisters could move to foreign lands, and working as pairs, take in small groups of orphans. Then they could raise eight or ten of these kids from infancy to adulthood, and help them have stability and a real family life, with a mother and a father in every house. I couldn’t understand why no one had ever come up with such a brilliant, awesome idea for a vocation before.

So, yeah, I’d basically invented something like marriage. I was young, stupid and totally blind to reality. And then I grew up and got married and somehow had six (soon to be seven) kids even though my friends who’d be better moms and who desperately wanted more somehow ended up with one or two. (Sometimes I think God is not the best planner …)

So now, instead of sailing across the sea and hugging lepers in exotic surroundings, I find my lepers sprawled around my house, surrounded by dishes and laundry. The 12-year-old social leper, who worries that she’ll never make another friend. The 10-year-old who makes a leper of herself, because she’s decided to have a snide comeback to every single statement she happens to overhear. The eight-year-old who wants to live a hermitic life, like a leper colony of one, with only Legos and Minecraft as company. The six-year-old leper who the other kids at swimming avoid as a “baby,” because he freaks out when he gets in the water. The four-year-old leper who is so thirsty for constant company that others avoid her, and the littlest leper who is crying again.