While I did, for the most part, enjoy my limited time as a good Catholic girl, there was one experience that was say, less than thrilling. It was the women’s retreat I went on.
Catholics believe that everyone, lay and clergy alike, should take a retreat once a year. I agree with the premise. We all need to unplug for a bit and get back in touch with ourselves and our deity (or deities, as the case may be), if not yearly then at least on a regular basis.
Imagine, if you will, starting your retreat at 8 am in the morning (after you worked until 11:30 the night before), having your phone and car keys taken away with you, and being lumped in with 40 of your (as yet unknown) newest female BFF who are all just so loving and affectionate I wondered if they had been taking ecstasy. Jesus! I start getting heart palpitations just thinking about it. Going without my phone was anxiety producing enough, and then they’re gonna take my only means of escape away? And leave me with a bunch of touchy-feely women, all set to give their weepy testimonial? What type of kool-aid was that, anyway? You gotta understand – I work around men, all day long, every day. I’m far more comfortable with men as friends, than I am with women. The amount of estrogen in the air was enough to change the sex of a pre-pubescent boy, and I’m not kidding.
But Marilyn, who had been my sponsor in my year to become a Catholic, loved this retreat. She sponsored it every year. Marilyn was awesome so I figured the retreat must be awesome too, so I decided to stay and give it a chance. Besides, I hadn’t seen her all summer, it would be good to see her again.
It was as bad as you think it would be. First up: Mass at 8 AM to start the retreat off right. I’d had about three hours of sleep, but made it there in time. While I’m sitting in mass, bleary-eyed and trying to stay awake, our dear Irish priest announced that the weekend retreat was dedicated to Marilyn ___, who had passed away that past summer, and who loved the Christ Renews His Parish retreats.
Wait, wait, what?? Marilyn was DEAD?? HOLY SHIT HOW COME I DID NOT HEAR OF THIS?? Immediately the tears started falling, silently at first but by the time mass was over I was full throttle hysterical. A couple of mutual friends came over to comfort me and told me what happened: she had tried to teach her autistic son how to drive one day, and he proceeded to drive straight into a telephone pole, killing her instantly. Her son was fine. The only good thing about it was, her son was so autistic that he never fully sunk in what had happened. Sheeeeesh. I figured she had just been skipping mass and going to the beach like most of the parishioners had been doing.
So yeah. That was the start of the retreat.
Over the next 32 hours, it never got better. We had group projects (ugh.) We had confession, which normally I really actually – enjoyed, but the priest I was assigned was a fricken psychic, man, and I couldn’t put anything over on him. We listened to testimony after testimony from weepy women all telling of their love of God and how they found their way to Jesus. We had to sleep INSIDE THE CHURCH ON AIRBEDS which I thought was sacrilegious, and some even slept near the altar. WHAAAT. I thought this was a Catholic Church, not a UU church! And then it came time they asked me if I wanted to get up and give my testimony. Nope. Nope I did not. I’m fine, thanks.
The ONE GOOD THING that came out of the retreat was this: at the very end of the last day, they gave us a manilla envelope some kid had colored a cross onto, and told to go find a quiet corner to go through it. What was in it, were things from our fellow parishioners, prayer cards, rosaries, beautiful hand-made cards telling us they were praying for us, and last but not least – handwritten notes from our loved ones, just tossed into the fray like little emotional time bombs ready to go all explodey on our tear ducts.
Apparently, when we filled out the paperwork to attend the retreat, we had to fill out the “Who to call in an emergency” section which, unbeknownst to us, they used that person to contact other people you were close to, to write a little something-something so they could put it in the manilla envelope. Those sneaky little bastids.
The notes from my sisters were sweet. One sister remembered a time when we were at school, she was in second grade and I was in third, she was shivering from the cold, so I took off my coat and covered her with it. I didn’t remember it, but it warmed my heart that she did. Another note was from a young man who is like a son to me.
But the note that really wrenched out the last of the tears from the pit of my dark little soul, was the one from my daughter. Bear in mind now, she was in her early twenties at the time, we had just gotten over a very rough decade otherwise known as “the teen years,” and were just kinda sorta building up an adult-to-adult relationship. The note went like this:
I know we haven’t always gotten along. But my best memories of you are this: I don’t remember you ever working. I mean, I know you worked, but I don’t really remember you doing that. I just remember you spending time with me as I grew up, and making stuff with you.
Yup. Wheeee-howdy, I cried like a baby.
All those years of scraping by as a single mother, selling my wedding ring set so we could have food, working the evening shift because I could make $1 more an hour doing so, but having to get up at 6 am to drive her to school, all that – was worth it. Through all the bad times, she remembered the GOOD times the most, and really, what more can a parent ask for?
So over the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing with you, how to “make stuff” with your kids; to Yule and beyond! And yes, I know the season’s the most crazy time of year – but find time to do something with your kids, anyway.
I promise you, they will remember it, and you will too.