A couple of Sundays ago, I was sitting at the head of our dining room table. It was one of those moments when you can almost step out of yourself completely, step away from what is going on around you, away from the moment, just to peek back in from an entirely different point of view.
There I saw my family — my whole family. It was one of those — now becoming ever more rare — moments when all five of my children, along with the two oldests’ boyfriend and girlfriend, were all able to make it for Sunday dinner.
As I observed them eating, talking, laughing, teasing, I couldn’t contain my smile and think about how blessed I was.
I then started thinking about the Year of the Family that is coming to a close. How had my family spent this year? Had we grown spiritually? Had we grown more together, or, for whatever reason, more apart? Sure, right at this moment, sitting around the dining room table, we were all together, all smiling, all enjoying being with each other. But is one Sunday out of four, maybe five, a strong enough indicator? Was this beautiful dinner a manifestation of what is, or was it just an anomaly of what we are?
I mean, to be truthful, things haven’t always been … well … Sunday dinner worthy. Believe it or not, there are times when the kids are at each other’s throats, when my patience with third grade Common Core math rails thin, when my wife looks as if to explode at the kids’ curled lip reaction to the dinner she had just spent hours making, when the cat tips over a soda can with the dog underneath making a sticky mess of dog, cat, floor and kids who walk right through it never thinking of helping to clean it up.
Then there’s the phone calls from school: “We’re just calling to tell you of our concern that your son was in the cafeteria seeing how many grapes he could fit in his mouth all at once to the cheers of his table mates.”
There are the calls from the older children: The 1:15 a.m. phone call that the car is broken down on the side of the highway, or the phone call that begins with a sweet, “Daddy,” and ends with a dollar sign. And let’s not forget how the household appliances all get together in the middle of the night and decide which is going to stop working today and which will stop tomorrow.
To be truthful, there are some days when I step away from what is going on around me, away from the moment, just to peek back in from an entirely different point of view, and all I can see is such utter chaos that I begin to wonder if I was ever cut out for this parenting vocation.
Then I remember what Pope Francis said at the World Meeting of Families this past September: “In families, children bring headaches,” he said, and I couldn’t agree more. “…But in families, there is always a Cross. Always. Because of the love of God, the Son of God opened up that way. But also in families, after the Cross there is Resurrection.”
There is always a Cross in families. Always. Whether that Cross is a messy bedroom, not eating your vegetables, academic struggles, sibling jealousies, running up cell phone charges, out-and-out disobedience, teenage pregnancies, addictions to drugs and alcohol, arrests, incarcerations, there are Crosses.
I am thankful that after every Cross my family has had to bear, there has been Resurrection, there has been resolution which inevitably has led to a better understanding of each other, a stronger bond, a growing closeness, an increasing trust, an ever-blossoming love, a Sunday dinner with the whole family eating, talking, laughing, teasing.
My wife nudged me, catching me in a thoughtful gaze affixed at no particular place. What are you thinking about, she asked me. I looked into her beautiful eyes and smiled. Just about how fortunate we are for our family Crosses, I said. She gave me a puzzled glare. I smiled and reached for another helping of tortellini.
Dean P. Johnson teaches English in Camden and is a member of Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro.