For Joe Cooper, Bill Husic and the kid on the plane
Their names are Bill and Coop, but I’ll call them Harry and Sam to preserve their privacy.
Sam always sits at the back of the church. I sit near the front. For years, I have teased Sam about sitting in the "cheap seats." He just laughs.
When grandbaby #1 began accompanying me to weekday Mass, I continued to sit in front. The baby was usually quiet and I liked it there.
Grandbaby #2 arrived two years later. My first attempt at weekday Mass with both of them bordered on disastrous. The toddler was chatty. The baby squawked. People around me were very gracious, but clearly we were disrupting their worship.
After that, I sat in the back near Sam and his friend, Harry. Sam thought it was hilarious that I’d joined him in the cheap seats.
That first day in the back, Sam watched as I juggled an opinionated toddler and a floppy baby. When it was time for Communion, Sam reached for the toddler’s hand. She gazed at him in awe as they made the long walk to the front.
The toddler loved the attention and I loved the extra hands. Thus was born a tradition at each Mass. Sometimes she ropes Mr. Sam into reading stories to her when Mass is over. Winnie the Pooh keeps careful watch.
One day, the baby was uncharacteristically squirmy and I had dark circles under my eyes. When it was time for Communion, Harry scooped up the baby, mumbling something about how even a brief respite can help an exhausted mom (or grandmum). Another tradition was born.
I thank God for these regular guys, whose gift to a weary soul means more than they can ever know.
It reminds me of an incident many years back. My husband was on an extended assignment on the West Coast, so our young baby and I flew out for a visit. The following week as we headed home, 6-month-old Skip began fussing in the taxi. By the time we arrived at the airport, he was screaming. He squalled through the terminal. He was wailing as we took our seats on the plane. He continued wailing for the five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Newark.
I nursed him. I gave him a pacifier. I walked him. I rocked him. I tried everything to soothe him, but the poor kid just cried his little heart out.
Lunch was served about three hours into the flight. By that point, I was in tears. I was also ravenous, but I couldn’t balance a lunch tray with a screaming ball of rage in my arms. That’s when a tough-looking kid behind me spoke up. He was perhaps 19 years old with arms covered in tattoos, and cigarettes rolled into his tee-shirt sleeve. The kid leaned forward and said, "Hey, lady, want me to hold your baby so you can eat your lunch?"
I was crying so hard that I just nodded and handed him my baby. I sat in silence and ate my lunch with tears falling down my cheeks. From time to time I thought I heard the quiet crooning of nursery rhymes behind me.
Skip never did stop crying. He screamed through Newark Airport and for the interminable drive to Connecticut. It was a long time before I traveled again with a baby.
In the aftermath, I made a decision. Never again would I shoot dirty looks at a parent who was unable to quiet a noisy child. Instead, I would offer help.
And so I love Sam and Harry for their help. They don’t wait to be asked, nor do they shoot me dirty looks for bringing small children to Mass. Instead, week after week, they make the simple gift of their arms. It’s the Body of Christ in action, and I am profoundly grateful.
"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." (Matt. 19:14)
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.