For years, I’d meet our neighbor, Mrs. Edith Jones, a few blocks from home, and she’d be hauling more bags than it was humanly possible to carry.
I’d offer to help; she’d say no thank you, then accept, and I’d lay hold of one after another of the double plastic bags that might as well have been filled with rocks. Then she’d tell me the occasion: someone at church had gotten sick and couldn’t make luncheon, so she’d help out; some nice young couple was getting married; a grandchild’s birthday was coming.
It’s always something. She said it not as complaint, but complex benediction. My Episcopal liturgy urges us to “delight” in God’s will. And if it were God’s will that Mrs. Jones single-handedly schlep 50 pounds of produce, well, so be it!
She laughed that day as we walked the few blocks home. She had a great laugh; it started as a tiny giggle. Sometimes she covered her mouth, although not when she was carrying enough chicken wings to feed the multitude. Then, it progressed, through a silent, lips-pressed head shaking to full-out guffaws with ribs rocking and eyes crinkled nearly to closed. I cannot remember what we said, but we laughed so hard that day that we had to put down her John Henry bags to throw our heads back, right there, and laugh into the sunshiney sliver of Kater Street sky.
Often we laughed at the impossible job of parenting. Mrs. Jones was one of the first older women who told me honestly—it was in the kitchen, naturally, while my child and her grandchild, best friends, were whooping it up, up and down the stairs (“Brina! Brina! Stop that running! They’re not going to stop, are they?”)—that sometimes you do not have what it takes to give each child what he or she needs at this moment.
I felt as if I hadn’t been doing so hot myself right about then, and I’d asked her, since she’d had six children, each one a perfectly unique temperament, whether she’d ever felt inadequate to this most important of life’s tasks. She told me, not in answer, but as an anecdote to keep me company, about a time when her little daughter Doris had made noise in church, lots of it, and then even more coming home from church.
“They’d come out the church, and if you had our front door open down here, you could hear her all the way from the next block. I’m telling you. The next block, Ms. Lorene!”
“Not from up by 22nd Street, Mrs. Jones. She was only, what, five?”
“Yes you could! Yes you could! All the way! That’s why they called her Hollerin’ Doris! She’d get going, and, what could you do?”
What you could do was to love each one exactly as he or she was; ask God to help you—and keep asking. She told me this with perfect respect and seriousness. Not: Get your Episcopal-whatever theology correct and pray like I do; but faithful and motherly comfort: Do your best, love your children, and when you fall short, which you will do every day, God knows, Jesus help us, pray to do better; pray that your children will thrive past your errors. Pray without ceasing. Pray because evil and weakness thrives everywhere in our lives. Pray because God is God, bigger and more mysterious than our minds and our divisions. Pray because how else can we carry the load? Pray because it frees our minds and hearts for love—and for more laughter.