standing ovation, unexpected

The last Sunday before Christmas, Liturgically there are no surprises. Advent, the season in which we Catholics prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, has been celebrated in the same way ever since I was a child. Actually, there might have been a change after the Ecumenical Council.If there was, I couldn’t tell you specifically what. I do remember that as a result of the Council, Mass was no longer spoken in Latin, but rather in English, and the priest faced the congregation, instead of having his back toward them. Both changes were memorable when they first occurred, and for some time afterwards.

But today’s Mass unfolded as usual, until Father Bryan introduced us to a group known as REX, or Religious Experience. It had been organized by a handful of female parishioners to benefit disabled Catholics. They numbered between 10 and 12 individuals, with their ages ranging from the mid-teens to the mid-fifties. There were more men than women. Several had Down Syndrome, with other disabilities not being as readily identifiable. But it was obvious they were all handicapped.

Father Bryan explained that for the past couple of years, the REX had entertained him with their version of the Nativity in the basement of the church. This year they agreed to Father’s request to perform for the congregation, which they did during our Mass.

One of the founding ladies narrated the story, while members of the group enacted the roles, the angel who acts as guide, Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds and the 3 wise men. The infant Jesus was a very realistic-looking, baby doll. The story was simple, and while the actors were not overly expressive, they were still engaging. What garnered them a standing ovation was their genuine commitment to do a good job, which they did, in spades! The looks on their faces were priceless. They seemed not to expect such affirmation of their work. In that moment, they were the least accomplished of God’s children, uplifted to the highest.

The REX bestowed a great gift upon us who have so much more, and oft-times forget that we do. Their joy is simple. Their pleasure is in the small things they achieve, and receive, like our standing ovation which lasted for several minutes. I went to church expecting nothing life altering, and came away changed, if only in a small way. But big enough to instill in me a new appreciation of Christmas, and the liturgy.

father bryan is always full of surprises, ones that make us better christians…hugmamma.

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unconditional love and support

Just learned that someone I’d known a number of years ago has Alzheimer’s. She’s the sister of a dear friend with whom I’ve reconnected through my blog. What’s impressive about this case is that the afflicted person was born with Down’s Syndrome. Now middle-aged, she is suffering a new health challenge,  perhaps more devastating than the one with which she was born. Is it true that God levels upon us only what he thinks we can handle? It may be.

The woman in question lived her life as though she weren’t handicapped.  Living in a home with others having special needs, she shared in  household chores, perhaps with some assistance. I’m not certain. She worked at a local market. She socialized. She even had a special male friend. I was always amazed at how normal her life seemed.

Then, just as now, a support system was in place to make this woman’s life as effortless as possible, emphasis on “as possible.” My girlfriend and her mom are to be lauded for their tireless efforts in helping their sister and daughter to live an independent life. They did not encourage a vegetative life, and knowing the woman she’d not have settled for that anyway. Their mom has since passed away, leaving her daughter in the care of my girlfriend and another sister.

Even with Alzheimer’s the woman is living in her community of handicapped friends. But her sisters bring her to their home on weekends. They make sure to keep her active, for outside stimuli is known to help in fighting the disease. That along with medication delays the onset.

My girlfriend is a special woman, having always placed others’ needs before hers. I am forever grateful that she created the first playgroup in our rural town. I’m certain it helped the moms as much as the toddlers. Building a network of friends probably saved the women from postpartum depression, and served as the cornerstone of socialization for our children.

Working for the good of children was always first and foremost on my friend’s agenda. A school teacher, she assumed the director’s position at a preschool once held by her mom, who succumbed to ovarian cancer. Having advanced to a better situation elsewhere, my girlfriend continues to share her special talent for making childrens’ lives better.

I always admired my friend’s parenting style, not that I ever dreamt of adopting it as my own. My strengths were different from hers. She was less controlling, more open to suggestions from her daughter and others. I knew I could only succeed if I trusted my own instincts, and did what I thought best. Vaccilation would undermine my confidence, thereby leaving my daughter without the guidelines I felt she needed.

Traveling very different paths, my friend’s daughter is training to be a big animal veterinarian, while my daughter is a professional dancer. So although their upbringing was as dissimilar as could be, they are both upstanding adults.

Unconditional love and support are potent allies for the handicapped, the diseased, new moms, young toddlers, growing daughters, and best friends. My girlfriend and I have remained supportive of each other throughout the years. I celebrate her successes; she congratulates me on mine. We’ve never shared a cross word, never passed judgment and always spoke well of each other’s children. We have been as close as sisters, whether in touch or not. But there was never pressure to correspond with, speak to or see one another. She and I were content knowing we cared, and would always care. My only concern was not knowing if she were still healthy and happy. If she ever passed, I would want to be told. I would want to pause to remember her for the extraordinary person she has always been.

now’s as good a time as any, to thank her…hugmamma