Tag Archives: loyalty

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?

pandemic-faith-optimism

Misplaced loyalty

When we were in our mid-thirties, my cousin wrote me and asked if we could get together for dinner the next time I came home for a visit.

We grew up more like sisters than cousins, and as children, she knew me better than anyone else.

Her request to meet seemed a bit odd, though, because we had drifted apart after high school.

Now she was in therapy and had some questions for me. Her childhood memories were fuzzy and had some blank spaces; she hoped I would be able to bring clarity to her murkiness and fill in some of the blanks.

At dinner, she asked about one of our uncles. I shuddered.

“If we had known of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch,’” she said, “he would have been a bad-touch uncle.” I agreed.

As far back as I could remember, I had tried to avoid this uncle, who liked to bounce me on his lap and “tickle” my still-undeveloped breasts. She confided that she, too, had learned to give him a wide berth.

Even at a young age we both knew that other adults saw anything wrong in what he did to us, and no one would stop him.

“What about us?” my cousin asked. “Why didn’t anyone protect us? Why were we left to feel shame for something he did?”

God-healing-vulnerability

The memory of that dinner with my cousin thirty years ago resurfaced recently.

Lately, I seem to be tuned into the secrets people keep. In novels—where more is left unsaid than shared—and television detective stories—where people withhold facts from the police—what goes unsaid has been catching my attention.

Why the hesitation? The resistance? Why not tell all? 

The answer frequently is the desire to protect someone.

God-healing-vulnerability

Perhaps novelists and screenwriters are emphasizing the things people don’t say as a way of pointing out how common the practice is. Perhaps they are using their craft to nudge people into greater honesty because they know how harmful secrets can be, how damaging it is to protect people who are abusing their power.

Maybe I am more aware of the destructiveness of keeping secrets and protecting people because of what is happening in my church. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto their power, covering up egregious acts and maintaining a code of silence. Or maybe it is because of politicians and celebrities demanding loyalty or paying hush money to keep their secrets.

Other than that dinner with my cousin, I have not talked about my uncle and the impact his actions had on me.

One thing I can see clearly, though, is how this early lesson helped shape my sense of “loyalty” and my understanding of the need to protect people who have something to lose—be it their reputation, job or family.  

In the end, the truth usually comes out. And it often turns out that people already knew, or at least had an inkling, of the truth.

The importance of a loyal friend

Margie and I were housemates for about two years after I graduated from college.

She taught me a lot about overcoming adversity. Margie has cerebral palsy; her body shakes and sometimes she falls. I have always thought of her body as “uncooperative.” But she is not a quitter and no matter how difficult the task, she is willing to try.

She also taught me a great deal about friendship.

Margie had a friend named Nancy who also had cerebral palsy. They met on a retreat long before I came along.

One day Margie asked me if I would help Nancy find a new apartment.

Nancy lived in a subsidized housing project in North Philadelphia, and Margie suspected it was not a good situation. Nancy’s husband worked all day, leaving her home alone.

If Margie’s body was uncooperative, Nancy’s was downright defiant. She used a wheelchair for mobility, but she did not have enough control of her hands to turn the wheels so she propelled her wheelchair with her feet. She relied on paid attendants to get her up in the morning and then ready for bed at night.

Margie told me that she had called Nancy every day since they first met, a daily check-in to make sure Nancy was ok. And yet she had never been to Nancy’s home. I asked if she wanted to go with me to talk to Nancy about finding a new place to live.

The drive into North Philadelphia was not new to me, but Margie had never been to this part of the city, and as we drove into the housing project, I sensed Margie’s body tense. “Are you up for this?” I asked. She said she was.

Nancy’s apartment door was unlocked; she did not have the strength to turn the deadbolt, so her attendant had left the door open for us.

A narrow path, just wide enough for Nancy’s chair, cut across the living room. On either side of the path, stacks of newspapers and magazines filled the space, floor to ceiling. One small armchair offered the only place to sit. Margie sat, and I stood in the path.

After they caught up on their social connections, I broached the subject of moving.

She admitted that she and her husband had been mugged coming home one evening and she did not feel safe. But her husband did not want to move. I could see why—every inch of available space was filled with his newspaper and magazine “collection.”

We visited for about an hour and I told Nancy I would talk with her husband about moving.

Back in the car, Margie sobbed. “I had no idea,” she said again and again. How could she.

Who could imagine that Nancy, this sweet, friendly, joyful woman, was living in a veritable prison—not only trapped in a defiant body but by a defiant husband.

Margie was overwhelmed with horror at Nancy’s situation and guilt that she did not know.

I tried to reassure her, telling her that sometimes we can only know what people tell us. Intellectually, she agreed, but her heart was broken for her friend.

“Just imagine how important your daily phone calls are to her,” I offered. We both pondered that truth for a moment. Margie stopped crying. It was true. She was doing what she could, and what she could do, those daily check-in calls, had been making more of a difference than she imagined.