"I Wanted to Be There With Them"
A surprise invitation leads to an unexpected friendship
In the last few months, I met a new group of friends at the park.
I simply met on the street a mom who saw me walking with my two-year-old and told me, "We are playing in the park across the street with children around your son's age, if you want you can come and join us!”
I had just finished praying, wounded by the inadequacy and closeness in my little life, and I was sad because I hadn't met anyone recently. I was burning with the question of how I am called to be a missionary and bring Christ into the world. Because of that question, that prayer, and that inadequacy, I decided to say ‘yes’ and join the group. I could only stay for ten minutes but I wanted to see their faces and find out when they were meeting next.
They were all so happy, simply sitting on a blanket, having the kids play together, kicking around a soccer ball, sharing some food, and chatting. They all seemed simple and joyful. Having just gone through lockdowns and isolation for the pandemic, and still dealing with the effects of it, these people were just joyful and unworried – happy to share their life. I found out later, seeing them every time I could, that two of them were living with their two little kids in a small one-bedroom apartment, another came from Germany while pregnant, delivered alone during the lockdown and was now here without any family, and another one had a tumor removed from her throat during the peak of the pandemic with a difficult surgery and had not been able to walk for months.
I would have never guessed that they all went through such difficulties because they were very happy and did not show in their faces any sign of pain or bitterness or toil. I kept meeting with this group of moms at the park with the kids, and at bars one evening a week for a drink together.
Over time, they started to share with me more about the drama of their personal lives. One of them got pregnant unexpectedly with her third child and her husband threatened to leave her if she didn't get an abortion. At first she considered terminating the pregnancy but eventually decided to keep the baby. Another shared about her depression, her anxiety in front of Covid, and her sadness for her parents who at age seventy decided to get a divorce. Another one started to foster her niece and nephew because her sister – the kids’ mom – is a drug addict. In each of these women there was a particular and intense drama.
Even if I never had a problem telling them openly that I am a practicing Catholic, and none of them are religious in any way, I had no desire to repeat to them a discourse or let them know what the Church thought of the issues that they were bringing up, like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, divorce and so on. Instead I saw their need and wanted to be there with them, to share their drama and to be present. Like the Pope said, “It is useless to complain, to hide behind a defensive Catholicism, to judge and blame the evil of the world.” Instead, “Let us look for ways to open a hole in the roof,” perceiving the crack in everything.
Yet, the most striking thing for me is how they have been a company for me during these months, sharing everything, from moments of difficulty to a day at the park with our children. Especially in the moments in which I felt most alone and in need of someone to accompany me in raising my kids, their presence has been a beautiful and simple embrace, and I was struck by the judgment that over and over was repeated by them: we wanted to be together and share our life. The embrace that I experienced from each of them affirmed that even in these times of uncertainty my life is important, and the value is to stay together, sharing life. Sharing life superseded all the possible extraneousness and risks brought by the situation.
These moms have been the witness for me that Christ is everything in everybody, and He came to meet me unexpectedly in a group of friends and with a simple invitation to join a playdate, which sounded a lot like the "come and see" of the Gospels.
Maria, Bay Ridge, NY