My parish is particularly well-suited for parents of small children, with a cry room, a nursery, and two rooms marked "Quiet Place for Nursing Mothers." Yesterday at Mass Camilla expressed her hunger before we even made it to the Kyrie, so I booked it to my favorite of the two nursing rooms. I was glad to see that it was dark, but when I pushed the door open, I discovered a woman sitting alone inside, crying. I started backing out, but she insisted that I come in, so I did.
As I sat down and prepared to nurse Camilla, I attempted to emanate gentle concern without seeming curious about why the woman was crying, but it was unnecessary, since she told me right away. She was crying for her son. Who died a month ago. At 39 weeks gestation.
We talked as the Muffin ate, and she told me more about her son, who passed away before birth unexpectedly and inexplicably. She told me about his funeral, and about her other six children. I offered to let her hold Camilla, and as she cuddled my daughter, she told me how holding babies makes her feel better. My heart was aching for her, and later, after she'd handed the baby back to me and I made my way into the sanctuary, I kept thinking about her.
Our priest preaches every Gaudete Sunday about the command to rejoice, reminding us that joy is not an optional part of the Christian life. I missed most of his homily yesterday, but I remember him saying specifically that we are not called to rejoice because of our circumstances, but in spite of them. Joy is most necessary when it is the hardest to summon.
I thought about how difficult it has been for me, so many times in the past, to rejoice in spite of my circumstances. I thought about the times when I did find joy, and about how it was invariably the gift of grace that enabled me to do so. I prayed for grace for the woman I met, the woman who will not get to see her son again until heaven, that she might find joy in spite of this awful circumstance.
Most of all I thanked God that this year I need not seek joy in spite of my circumstances. And all afternoon, I hugged my daughter a little tighter and held her a little longer, for I do not want to forget how blessed I am that she is here.