Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother's Day Story

When I last wrote here, I mentioned some words my mother said to me each night. Her words said something of who she is, a loving mother. This morning, as I lifted her out of bed and onto her wheelchair, she said some words which said something of who I am: “You know, you’re a pretty good guy.”

Now of course, it being the first thing in the morning, and mom perhaps not being fully awake --- and her having dementia, there might be some question as to who she thought I was, when she said those words. But I’ll choose to believe them in the best possible light: I try to be a good son. And it is with those thoughts and that relationship in mind that I choose to review this book for Mother’s Day.

Or did I choose? But we’ll get to that in a bit …

I picked up this book a few weeks ago. It is not my usual reading fare, but for some reason when I saw it in the Catholic book store I added it to my usual pile of purchases on the counter. I took it home, and it sat for a while on the shelf in the family room, but last week I was boxing up a few hundred books for a donation to a local parish library, and I found it in my hand. Read it? Or donate it?

I dropped it on the kitchen table to read this weekend while I stayed at moms, and then perhaps I’ll donate it.

Ruth Pakaluk was a convert to Catholicism in college (Harvard??!!), married, had a number of children, became an avid defender of the faith and pro-life advocate, contracted cancer and died. End of story. (I said it wasn’t my usual reading fare.) And that may have been the extent of my feelings about this book, had I read it ten years ago.

But instead I read it Saturday, and that was a strange coincidence. Because when I read it, I felt I was not only reading the story of Ruth and her family, I felt as if were re-reading the exact same story I have read so very often in these past two years, in the blogs I read and followed on the internet.

I only actively follow perhaps a dozen blogs on the internet. They are Catholic blogs I have discovered on sites here and in Great Britain. I follow these writers because, at least on occasion, I gain some new insights into my faith, and myself, through their words. Some are women living out their faith as they raise families. Some are new converts, and some new re-verts --- and they often have to explain their new Catholic faith to family and friends (who often are not very understanding), and a few of the blogs I follow are people discerning if they have a vocation to the religious life. In all of their lives, I see some of my life, and occasionally comment to them on my experiences --- or at least my readings of others’ experiences, since I read so much. These people and I often have much in common, in our faith walk. And I saw this commonness in the life and story of Ruth Pakaluk.

Ruth Pakaluk never blogged on the internet; it was just coming into its own when she died. But I know a woman who does blog, who went to college, and is raising a family while her husband continues to struggle toward advanced college degrees. She balances God and a growing family, and all while living a very busy life. She is a great cook, and writes out some wonderful recipes on her blog for others to try – I have. “If you want something done, ask a busy person; they can always prioritize to do more.” That’s this person, whose husband will soon study at Ave Maria College in Florida. That was also Ruth, who followed her husband to colleges in the U.S. and Europe and back, and raised his family (and “made pierogi on Saturday”). Ruth’s husband now teaches at Ave Maria University, as does his new wife --- who Ruth picked out for him on her deathbed. Two of Ruth’s children are now studying there also.

I followed the blog of a woman, a convert, who went on for advanced degrees, became an evangelist, and explained the faith so clearly, and with such compassion, that people were converted through her words. She is writing her story for a chapter in the book I’m doing. Through the book I hope others will see what they can do, with God as their partner. Ruth Pakaluk did those same things. She was such a good pro-life debater that Planned Parenthood members refused to debate her anymore. She spoke and wrote of her faith, explaining it patiently to anyone and everyone, even in her final letters.

I actively looked on the internet for people who read a lot, and who might provide me some suggestions on good books to read. I found only one, who has read many books that I have, and yet has read others which appear to be of value, the type I might be interested in. I purchased and read some of her blog recommendations, and I enjoyed them. Ruth was an avid reader, and despite being so young she raced through many wonderful books. I know; I’ve read many of them. I’m sure I would have liked to discuss them with her.

But Ruth was also a mother, and sometimes wrestled with her children’s problems --- and with one of their deaths. And she raised good children. Sending them off to camp, even as she was dying, her letters to them ended: “Remember to say your prayers morning and evening. Don’t do anything utterly brain dead. Have fun.” I follow a few blogs of mothers like this. Their love for their children comes through without their ever having to use the word love. They sometimes struggle with their family, their faith, and even sometimes with their local churchmen, who are sometimes tainted by the culture we live in. These mothers stand up for the truth, especially on life issues. That too, was Ruth. She wrote clear, forceful letters to priests, and bishops.

And then there is a business person, whose blog I read. Advanced degrees, an important job, prestige, and a strong faith --- most of the time. And she likes the outdoors and hiking, especially in Europe. She always writes so beautifully of how she sees God there. And I see in her life so many of the things and thoughts I have lived in my life, so much so that I think I’ve known her for many years, not just a short while. A distant friend, yet a friend nonetheless. And I read and saw all these things in Ruth.

And then there is a person facing the end of life. A husband with Alzheimer’s and now herself in an assisted living facility, and “I’ll never go home again.” She is a person of wisdom and faith, a model for how we all should view the end of this life, and all of life’s struggles, with an eye on eternity, and a heart full of thankfulness for all life’s blessings. Ruth wrote her thoughts of her impending death, knowing very closely the day, and the hour. And she wrote with great confidence of her future.

In my online friends, I see the beginnings of life and faith, a love of life, and looks at its end. And I see myself. And in a single afternoon I saw all that too, in Ruth Pakaluk.

How could I see all these things, these people, these friends, old and new, in this book I almost tossed away? A strange coincidence? And why did I choose read it the day before Mother’s Day, this Story of Ruth Pakaluk, Convert, Mother, Pro-Life Activist?

I don’t know. Perhaps it wasn’t my choice. Perhaps it’s just part of The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God.

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