Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Time of Grace

This is my first Mother's Day since my mother's death. I realize that I am the oldest living woman on either side of my family. My mother and mother-in-law are now both gone. All my aunts are deceased. I have a few female cousins who are older than I am. I guess that puts me at the top of the generational ladder. I feel slightly disoriented.

Shortly after returning home from my mother's funeral, I learned that friends of ours lost one of their sons. He had committed suicide in another state. They held a memorial service for him there, at exactly the time that our family was burying our mother. No one in our circle of friends realized what had happened until they returned to Southern California, and held a funeral here. By that time, almost 10 days had passed.

All of us swung into action, to bring them dinners, send cards and call on them. And I must say, looking out for them has made it much easier to deal my the loss of my own mother. Not only is their loss deeper and more difficult, but I feel better when I am not preoccupied with myself.

In the course of talking with people about bringing them dinner, I found out that another person in our circle of friends had lost her sister. Her sister died right around the time of the son's funeral in Southern California. She called up the mother to bring her a meatloaf dinner. And the mother replied that she had just made a shepherd's pie for her family. The Gift of the Magi.

This whole period has reminded me why we pray. (I realize that not all of my readers are religious: I ask your indulgence for a moment.) Prayer works at the natural levela and at the supernatural level. Set aside the supernatural for the moment, since we don't really know how that works. Sometimes non-believers ridicule prayer, thinking that we are indulging ourselves in wishful thinking to make ourselves more powerful than we really are, or avoiding responsibility for genuine action. At best, prayer is a harmless distraction. At worst, the distraction immobilizes us, by creating the impression of doing something, while actually doing nothing substantial.

I actually think the opposite is true: prayer helps us confront our limitations directly. Often, we pray precisely because we know we don't have the time, the money or the proximity to do anything to help. Prayer works at the natural level because it focuses our minds on the good of the person we pray for. Often, we can't do much for the other person. We feel powerless, and in fact we are powerless over the biggest and most important facts: I can't bring my friend's son back. We can't do anything for the typhoon victims in Burma.

But in the act of praying, sometimes it will come to our minds that we can do something. I can't bring my friend's son back, but I can bring dinner to her family. And in that act of doing what we can, we shape ourselves and our characters. We form the kinds of person we will be the next time some difficulty confronts us. That is most decidedly not nothing.

I talked about this in one of the later chapters of Love and Economics.

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