Thursday, January 18, 2007
You would think, since I haven't been here for several days, things must be hopping and popping...or we had had a crisis.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church in her wisdom has declared this "Ordinary Time" and it is just that.
A thousand years ago, when we had sixty kids in a classroom and the entire faculty was comprised of nuns and I had a roomful of wiggling second graders every year all of whom were making their First Confessions and First Holy Communions that year (a huge responsibility for me) there were no ordinary days.
Every single day there was a crisis. The poorest kid with the thickest glasses falls in the Chicago sludge and gravel that used to be the pure driven snow and totals his lens. A white faced child appears at my desk and when she opens her mouth to say, "Sister, I feel sick," no words come out. What does come out a few minutes later is that sawdust stuff from the janitor's closet. In those days the convent was across the street and I could run over there and change while an eighth grader watched the class as they remained on their 'best behavior." Play ground fights, classroom fights during recess when it's too cold to go outside, sending people to Mother Superior, having to tell parents their second graders are being recruited for Satan's army by the third graders....
And then there was the school itself. The furnace was built during the Civil War by the rebel army in a clever ploy to secretly freeze the population in the North to death. I made that up. It was made by a Chicago company during the Jurassic period. It was Chicago. You boil. You freeze. The kids sitting by the radiators were roasting like St. Lawrence and the kids on the other side of the room sat in Siberia.
We never knew what was going to blow up or break down. The mimeograph machine, the announcement speaker, the front door, the woman who made the lunches...anything could go at any time.
One afternoon I encountered the fifth grade nun (one of three...that's how many kids we had back then!) slumped over her desk. The class was at recess. Sister Marillia had thrown in the towel, from the look of her.
"Sister Marillia!" I said. "Are you alright?"
"The mimeograph machine is down," she said. "I was going to test them all afternoon. Now I have two hours to fill."
It was tempting to point out to her that the mimeograph was always down at least once per day and that her situation was due to poor planning on her part to not have given herself enough lead time to copy the tests. But the specter of an afternoon of 40 some odd fifth graders with time to kill overwhelmed me, too. I swooned on her behalf.
I figured I better high tail it out of there before the class returned and I was sucked into the vortex.
"Sister," I said to her, "you just have to look at it like this: this is just today's dilemma. Every day we have some kind of dilemma to deal with. This one is yours today. It's just today's dilemma. Expect one every day. It's always a surprise."
Somehow, this seemed to cheer her up. "Sing," I told her. "That always goes over well. Or teach them to say a proper rosary. Nobody gets that right."
Which is true...it's no wonder that the separated brethren are baffled by the rosary, which to them looks like a lot of rattling and mumbling and which, unfortunately, is exactly right on the mark a lot of the time. But I digress.
After years of no ordinary days, I must admit that I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought it had last night when at 9:30 there came a pounding on the door. For a moment there I thought the pagan babies had finally found us. But it was the neighbor lady. She smelled gas in her house and her gas meter was making strange noises. She needed the emergency number for the Gas Company. Her day's dilemma. Not ours. Nothing has exploded so everything must have worked out.
These have been ordinary days, thank the Lord.