My daughter says the funniest things. One day I was on my knees and elbows, cleaning the floor. I do this a few times a day in the area where the kids eat. She said sadly, "Mom, I hate to see you doing work on your knees. You shouldn't have to do that." I explained to her that it was my pleasure and my privilege to parent her and her brother, and to clean up after her Dad as well. As far as the physical position, well, it's just easier to clean the floor from . . . the floor. I didn't want her to see housework as menial, didn't want her to somehow interpret the physical positions she sees me in, head half in the dryer, wearing gloves while cleaning toilets, carrying three bags of groceries on each arm while holding a kid in each hand, as demeaning or undesirable. How I hope I have communicated the great dignity of marriage and motherhood to her! And if I have not, Lord, teach me how to do so!
I cannot think of a life better spent than one spent in service to others. There is, paradoxically, a selfish reason for this. When I'm thinking and acting outwardly, doing for someone else, I am not focusing on the care and feeding of ME. I am only so interesting, and then let's face it, it's time to stop tending to my physical appearance, worrying about my health, and futzing around in my memory or imagination for things to worry about or re-enact. In my observation, a life spent dedicated only to self is a life that becomes exhausting in its infinite nature. I have a closet full of clothes that attest to this. After the tenth pair of jeans, what's left to discover? After the fifteenth pair of shoes, a feeling of burden emerges. All this stuff is mine to maintain and keep track of and clean and select from. There's a heaviness to possession. The addiction to buying and acquiring is SO American, and so pervasive . . . we're all guilty of it, and I unfortunately still fall into the sin of overindulging my kids with small toys and pieces of nonsense. Then I have to figure out where to keep it all, and keep it there neatly, and I've created a need to serve the stuff instead of serving the people in my home. Or (ouch!) serving God.
I was praying the other night and something hit me out of nowhere. That in His misery, at His lowest point, Jesus did two amazing things: one, He actually fulfilled His highest purpose, one that only the Son of God, only a King could fulfill, and two, He managed to forgive the good thief and welcome him into Paradise. That thought really got lodged in my heart and mind. I meditated on that for a while. Jesus is up there, feeling physical and mental anguish beyond anything I can imagine, and He is being humiliated beyond what any human being (no less God!) should ever endure, and He pulls it together long enough to turn to this criminal, this sinner, and grant him absolution. And promise Him instant eternal life! I laugh at myself that Jesus still amazes me anew after all these years. I'm so silly sometimes. Like there is anything Jesus CAN'T do? Of course he served, and taught us to serve. Of course he exemplified humility. Of course He took on flesh, and became small. It is His example that drives me on to my goal: to become invisible in those moments when I'm evangelizing or witnessing, invisible so that all people see, all my children see, is Jesus. Because there really is not much more to me that is interesting. I'm skin and bones, and a voice, and a lot of stuff that I've collected over the years. Everything good in those physical elements, and coming through those earthly characteristics and powers is Jesus. Plain and simple.
When I think about the "highs" of my life, they are not the times I've been on the receiving end of glory. I accelerated relatively quickly in my teaching career, and in the teachers' union as well. I graduated Summa Cum Laude, a perfect 4.0, from college. I had a beautiful wedding gown and matching headpiece that my mother spent extra for so I could look perfect. Recently, my husband took me to a concert, our first date night in I can't tell you how many years, and I was transported back to my youth as I danced in my seat and sang every single lyric. But you know who had more fun? My husband, watching ME have fun. Because HE knows the secret as well. And as great as that night was, it was not as great as some simpler, quieter nights I recall, when I was pregnant with my son, barely able to bathe my daughter with my big belly in my way. Or when I stood backstage watching my daughter step out and dance with the Moscow Ballet, watched her perform the steps she had rehearsed so many times, with my heart in my throat. What if she made a mistake, fell, got scared?! But she didn't. I forgot myself entirely in these moments. I was not really there; I only existed in the service and support of my children, and that is the most freeing and liberating feeling I can recollect. To not sit and stew about myself is a gift, and an ongoing goal of mine.
Please do not confuse, my friends, an interior spiritual life with the self-absorption I am talking about. You better believe I take my time for my religious reading, my prayer, my fellowship, and my worship. That, too, must be about the other, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about thanking God the Father. About getting to know Mary after all of those years I ignored her. About learning wisdom from the saints. About becoming fortified by what my Church has to feed me so that I can continue to get on the floor and clean up crumbs, and get on the phone and comfort a friend, and get on Facebook and disabuse someone of a misconception about Catholicism, and get down next to the bed, look squarely into the faces of my children, and pray with them. I fulfill my highest purpose from these low places, and I thank God for it.