My husband forgot his laptop today. He called me half an hour after leaving home to ask if I could load the kids up into the van and come bring it to him.
I glanced out the window and saw that the sun was shining, the snow was happily melting, and it seemed to be a perfect day to take a drive, so I told him we’d be there shortly and hung up.
Optimism was running high apparently, because by the time I’d tracked down, dressed, and wrangled six kids into the car, a good hour had passed. I paused for a moment, since I knew that in Rome, another vote was coming up, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to stare at a chimney for a good 45 minutes waiting to see the smoke.
Relying on the painfully slow voting process and odds of a Pope not being chosen after only the fifth vote, I figured I had enough time to drop off the laptop, grab some lunch for the kids, and get home in time to stare at the chimney in relative peace.
As I pulled into the parking lot to drop off the computer, my husband came out to meet me with a live feed from St. Peter’s Square running on his iPhone and no new news about the vote. I took the kids to Burger King, where I hit the drive through and decided I’d find a space to park rather than trying to eat and drive.
The kids were chewing on their fries; I was idly watching the group of half dozen young men waiting at the bus stop. They were all dressed identically, from their blue-and-white sneakers to their monochrome black sweat suits, all the way to the white earbuds in their ears. As the bus came, and they shuffled onto it, I got a text from my friend.
“WHITE SMOKE!!!! WHITE SMOKE!!!!” was all it said.
I may or may not have screamed in excitement. “White smoke!!!” I yelled. The kids crawled over van benches, spilling fries everywhere, while I tried to get the Vatican feed on my phone. I found the local Catholic radio station, which had switched over to the audio from EWTN’s coverage, and for a good fifteen minutes, we all sat there, waiting for news. Periodically, one of us would clap with giddy excitement.
I tried calling my husband to tell him. I was sent straight to voicemail. I texted him instead, “WHITE SMOKE!!! WHITE SMOKE!!!” I got a brief, irritated message in return: “Stuck in meetings! Can’t get any news!”
The kids excitedly speculated who the new Pope was. They were split between Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, who was our “adopted” Cardinal, and Timothy Cardinal Dolan, because they liked all the memes of him with his scarlet cape flying in the wind.
I looked around me. Here I was, in the middle of a Burger King parking lot, surrounded by my six children, inside a van with a Miraculous Medal decal on the back and a faded blue Rosary draped over the rearview mirror. News of our new Pope was blasting over the radio, and we were all huddled around my phone, watching live pictures from St. Peter’s Square.
Meanwhile, this section of the world passed by our exuberant Catholic caravan, oblivious. But I could see our joy radiating out from our car, like wavy beams of love and excitement, and soaking into the men on the bus, the Burger King workers, the drivers of the blue and red sedans zipping by. I imagined all that love and joy and prayerful excitement rising out of St. Peter’s, out of grocery stores and living rooms and business meetings everywhere and wrapping the world in a sort of momentary group hug. At that moment, it didn’t matter to me who the new Pope was. Because I knew that whoever had been selected would come to lead a Church that was alive and vibrant and so, so willing to reflect Christ’s light into this dim world.
One Burger King parking lot at a time.