The Grace of Distractions
After months of meeting others digitally, "I had come to expect the mundane." How Marc's daughter's excitement at their flesh-and-blood friends reawakened him.
Since restrictions related to the pandemic were instituted in the spring, most of our family's time has been spent within a few blocks of our home. Until quite recently, our interactions with friends took place primarily over video conferencing. Various novel rituals allowed us to experience facets of the human connection in this way, but we realized some fullness of the experience was missing.
The Boston community's pilgrimage to the La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts, on September 13 offered a moment to gather unbound by digital boxes (albeit at a six-foot distance from one another). The day began with the Stations of the Cross, which were interspersed with prayerful song and reflection. After the Stations concluded, Father Luca celebrated Mass at the outdoor chapel at the shrine.
The week leading up to the pilgrimage had been busy at work, and the coursework for my graduate program put further burdens on my time. After a late night completing house chores and caring for our two young children, I told my wife that I was not sure that I would have the energy for an afternoon of activities outside our home the next day, bookended by hour-long drives. However, the desire to be in community compelled us to take the trip.
After months of largely undifferentiated days, I had come to expect the mundane, and in the process had started to take many things for granted. My desires for the pilgrimage reflected that, and were similarly mundane--like having our almost-two-year-old be distracted enough by new surroundings to sit still for an hour-long Mass. To my benefit, these desires went unfulfilled; instead, our daughter’s distractions during Stations invited me to experience the Stations as she was experiencing them, for the first time. Her excitement at the group of new faces made me realize that, despite my exhaustion and anxieties about work to be done, I was being offered a beautiful moment with my friends.
I did not get to sit still for Mass that day: with socially-distanced pews outside, it is even easier then normal for a toddler to slip away during a reading. The change of scenery gave me freedom I had not realized I needed to let my daughter pray in her own way and in her own place--which that day was in front of the statue of Our Lady in the fountain at the back of the chapel, and laying on the ground behind a tree with her hands clasped in prayer. When it was time for the Prayer of the Faithful, I asked Saoirse for whom she would like to pray, as I often do to invite her to prayer. She began excitedly pointing at various of our friends and grinning, a reminder that it is a grace to be able to be attentive to our friends in the flesh, and to be able to approach the altar together in person.
As I reflected on it that evening, I was surprised by God's grace that day. I am humbled that my children teach me to recognize His Presence in my daily life.
Marc, Boston, Massachusetts