As we were finishing up everything, William gave one more yip.
"Shut up!" screamed a lady from the card-playing table.
Our table froze in a collective horror. Finally I turned around and looked at the ladies. I stared each one in the face, and I hope I may never again see such coldness and hostility. I don't remember what most of them looked like, but one lady, not the screamer, sticks in my memory, her blue hair matching her blue flowered shirt and polyester slacks. I looked at her for a good five seconds, and she looked at me, still holding her hand of cards, shaking her head slightly, her eyes behind her big glasses big, her brow knit.
I stood up, seizing William out of his high chair and knocking over the glass of lemonade.
"I am sorry, " I said, in a voice that was not quite as controlled as I wanted it to be, "that a little child offends you."
The blue lady fidgeted. "He's been screaming ever since you brought him in," she said, gilding the patent falsehood with the very slightest defensive edge of explanation.
I repeated myself.
"Poor parenting skills," said the screamer, and the table tsked and murmured in agreement.
We were leaving by now, shaky and disorganized, the children solemn and frightened. The waitress, who was, I think, sympathetic to us, told us to just bring the bill up front and she'd ring us up. As we left the room, the table of twenty-somethings started cheering and applauding the courageous stand of the old ladies.
My sister, two months postpartum, was trembling and gasping out great sobs as she clutched her baby carrier.
"I have to get out of here," she said. "Did you hear them cheering? I've never seen anything like it. They're cheering that we left. I can't believe anyone would do that."
My eleven-year-old was weeping too. Diana and her little cousins huddled together. William, smearing my shirt and his overalls with pizza, burbled and grinned and batted his big blue eyes.
Externally I was calm -- I'd been able to speak mildly to the little ones I had to take through the store afterwards, and I'd been pleasant as I waited for them to go through the bathrooms, but I could feel myself slipping into reveries and shutting out the kids without meaning to. Driving gave me another hour to brood. My eyes were hot and prickly behind my sunglasses as I tried to breath easily and pray, a chaplet of Divine Mercy for the ladies and the young people and the entire situation.
For the sake of his sorrowful passion Did you often find it helpful, in your long experience, to scream "Shut up!" at a seventeen-month-old? Did they listen? Have mercy on us Here's my baby. His name is William. Would you like to tell him to shut up to his face? AND ON THE WHOLE WORLD How did you shut your kids up? Would you prefer I slap him? Is that what you did?
And the more I tried to turn away from these thoughts, the more they intruded. I know, and knew at the time, that confrontation only builds defensiveness, and that the kind of hardness I saw is only softened by the Holy Spirit, not by any words of mine, and I regretted saying anything at all and giving them the opening to make the poor parenting crack. I hate giving people ammunition. And the crack rankled, not because I thought it was true on any level, but because it was a lie. A lie that stood unchallenged, and that the lady knew was a lie when she said it, but spit it out anyway because it was something defensive and hurtful to say. And I hoped that I would never get so old that I would forget what it was like to have babies, and to have people judge you based on one isolated situation. I hoped that her estranged children would spit on her grave HAVE MERCY ON US, AND ON THE WHOLE WORLD
Then there was the frustration of not knowing what happened afterwards. Aslan said that no one is ever told any story but his own, but I wanted to hear someone else's story. That kind of hatefulness leaves a mark. Did any of the ladies feel ashamed afterwards? Would they lie awake tonight and regret their actions? Were their divisions in the group, with some feeling that maybe they'd been too harsh? Would the lady I stared at remember my face until her dying day? Maybe the manager had kicked them out afterwards. Had anyone else complained? What if two of the young people had been dating, and one was so disgusted by the other's behavior that they broke up right then FOR THE SAKE OF HIS SORROWFUL PASSION
The next morning at breakfast, we were with a large easy group of old friends and companions at a retreat center, all gathered for the dedication of the new chapel. A small boy sitting at the next table was sing-songing "Shut up! Shut up!" in the same sharp tone we'd heard the day before. Diana turned to someone at our table.
"The lady at the restaurant told us to shut up yesterday," she announced matter-of-factly, and my heart broke that this was imprinted now on my four-year-old's memory, the time the old lady screamed at us.
The mass for the dedication of the chapel was beautiful in every way, but during the Eucharistic prayer I felt such anger that it was as if I was under attack. I tried to listen to the words of consecration, and I kept coming up with more things I could have said in the moment. Every time I wrenched my attention back to the Mass, fresh arguments popped up -- not even things that I would have said, or wanted to have said. All I could do was trust that the healing power of the Eucharist would work on me. And it did, and for a while I was quiet.
But of course, on the long drive home, I had plenty more time to think about it. I thought I'd let it go earlier, but I hadn't, and now rage was bubbling up and almost consuming me. If this was how I felt about a minor injustice, how must it be for people who've had to deal all their lives with systematic abuse and cruelty? How hard must it be to forgive, and how deeply must those wounds run? A line from a hymn we'd sung came to my mind: "If you are lost, look to the cross." And so I did, and it struck me: we need a God who has suffered more than we have, to put all of our injuries into perspective. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Here's my baby. Look at him. He looks like my brothers. It's easy to be cruel when you don't have to deal with an actual person, isn't it? FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO
That was Saturday. On Sunday I went to Mass again, and felt under attack again. Okay, I need to go to Confession this week. I thought. I need to tell the priest, "I've been so angry this week. I've hated someone. I was at a restaurant with my baby, and a lady said to me..." And at even the thought of speaking this out loud, tears nearly spilled over, and I had to wrench my attention back once again.
What a wound hatred leaves. What an ugly mark. I like to think of myself as a calm, even-tempered, rational person, and usually I am, I guess, but my life has been comparatively free of large scarring events, and what sad events there have been are so far in the past now that they rarely affect my day-to-day living. I wonder how long it will be before this moves to the back burner of my consciousness, and I can stop thinking about alternate scenarios and pretty revenge fantasies Maybe someone filmed it and will put on Youtube, and the whole world will rise up in indignation I don't even want that to happen FATHER, FORGIVE ME, FOR I KNOW NOT WHAT I DO.