Loving strangers can be hard, but receiving Jesus in the Eucharist should change the context in which we view everyone.
My paternal grandmother, bless her heart, is a prickly woman. If you take the image of the soft, cookie-baking granny who smells like baby powder and pats your cheek affectionately whenever she sees you, then reverse it, you have my grandma.
One of my most vivid childhood memories of her comes from one of the few times she had me sleep over at her house. As she was tucking me in, I noticed that the closet door was slightly ajar. Since everyone knows monsters come out of closets to consume little children at night, I was about to ask my grandma to close it when a picture caught my eye. For reasons that are still not clear, not even to my adult mind, my grandmother had hung a picture of a bedbug, magnified 1000x, inside the guest room closet door.
Horrified, I asked her what that thing was. She glanced at it, shrugged, and said, “Oh that? It’s a bedbug.” When I asked the natural follow-up question – “What’s a bedbug?” – she brusquely smoothed down the bedspread around me and said, “It’s a bug that lives in your mattress and sucks your blood while you sleep.”
Not too much sleep went on that night.
Bedbugs and lack of familial warmth aside, my grandmother loves meeting new people. We could be in the bathroom at a restaurant, and by the time she’s done washing her hands, she’ll have struck up conversations with two other people. Once, while visiting the Epcot Center, she learned that the young man serving us in the biergarten was on work visa from Bavaria. My grandmother, chatting him up between orders of pretzels and beer, looked him dead in the eye at one point and said, “So, since coming here to America, how’s your sex life?”
My grandma loves meeting strangers. Strangers are safe and they’ll eventually be driven away by wildly prying questions. It’s the people closest to her that would have liked a little more attention, or at least attention featuring a little less discussion of blood-sucking insects.
I see a lot of her in me. I am great when experienced through the filter of social media. I’m charming and witty and funny. I love meeting new people and interacting with them over the distance of the Internet. But how many times have I shushed a child while I was reading a blog post? Or avoided a walk to the park so I could spend time on Facebook? It is so safe to have contact with strangers – it’s the real people in your real life who require daring and bravery.
This is not one of those horrible “moms squander their children’s precious childhood by being online” essays. Guilt is a lousy motivator, and spending time online can be just as legitimate a pastime as reading or sewing. What this is is a discussion of Pink.
Not Pink the singer, but Mary Mullaney, known to her friends as “Pink”. And judging by her obituary, Pink was rich in friends. Friends from all walks of life, from her own bloodline to homeless people she’d let warm up in her car while she attended daily Mass.
The thing that strikes me most deeply about Pink’s life was what she did with her friends. They were not simply abstracts to be collected, or enjoyed through a tidy surface interaction – they were real people whose real needs she helped meet. She fed her friends. She kept them warm. She kissed them and gave them aid and was patient enough to figure out how to get them to eat their vegetables. Her social interactions were not for her benefit (though she certainly sounds like she enjoyed them), but rather to fill needs that she recognized in them.
I want to be like that. I want to take less from my social interactions and give more. I want to share what I have so there’s a little less need in the world. But then I think, “I can’t. It’s too hard. Pretty soon I’d be swindled by the wrong charity or mugged by the wrong hitchhiker or robbed by the foreigner I invited to Thanksgiving dinner. At the very least, I’d get rabies from the possum in my shed.” A life like Pink’s is an anomaly, but a lovely one nonetheless.
But then, if you look closely enough at her obituary, you see the fuel that drove this extraordinary woman: the rosary, daily Mass, and a love for the Eucharist so strong that you cry at every single Consecration.
Every single Consecration.
It always comes back to the Eucharist. Every irritation can be put in perspective, every problem made lighter, every joy shared, by uniting ourselves with Christ in the Eucharist. All that sound like empty-headed platitudes? Go back and give Pink’s obituary another read – an obituary that has actually gone viral and landed a mention in the famously anti-religious Huffington Post.
When we let Jesus come to us in the Eucharist, he gives us the fuel to share love, fill people’s needs, and deal with bedbugs and possums. He makes us amazing – just like Mary “Pink” Mullaney.