(How's that for a post title?) :)
Today, Thad and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. Well, "celebrating" may be too strong of a word; he has a busy Monday at work ahead of him, and I'm still dealing with the recurrent bladder infection that sidelined me all weekend, so we'll probably just celebrate quietly at home.
Thad pretty much did everything this weekend: chores, grocery shopping (Kitten went along because she loves to help), picking up pizza for Saturday's dinner, getting the girls to Mass Sunday morning (and I hated to miss it, because I love Good Shepherd Sunday), and just generally being awesome. I told him yesterday that he really does model the very concept of Love to me, because his love always has a strong component of selfless service to it--he always makes me think of the way God loves us, in the way he loves me and our family. That's something our world tends to forget a lot when it talks about love--that love is fundamentally a giving thing, a sacrificial thing, something that pulls us outside of our comfort zones and challenges us and helps us to become our best selves. Compared to how the secular world tends to see love, as a mix of romance, sex, good feelings, and that all-important consideration of What We Get Out of It, real love is mysterious, heroic, and permeated with the kind of truth that comes from the Divine Love Who is God.
Since I spent the weekend trying to get over this stupid illness, I had lots of time to think, and in addition to thinking about Thad, our anniversary, and what love is, I found myself thinking about two other things: the "screaming babies at Mass" conversation, and the capture of the 19-year-old member of the deadly Boston bombing terror duo. I wouldn't be me if I didn't see connections.
I was talking to Kitten about the suspect who was captured alive--mentioning in disbelief that he is only two years older than she is, and wondering aloud what happens to people, and why someone would commit such evil and throw his life away like that? She pointed out that some people are taught to hate others and to think of evil deeds as good, which is not the sort of thing that she and her friends are taught. I pondered that, because of course we don't know fully yet what the bombers had been taught or what they believed, though there are vastly troubling signs. But it is true that people tend to reflect their core values and beliefs in their actions. Where it gets tricky is that sometimes a person's true core values and beliefs are at odds with what they appear to have been taught or what they profess to believe; evil lies in the heart of a person, and plenty of seemingly good people have committed atrociously evil acts because what they claimed to believe and what they actually believed were completely at odds. Still, if this turns out to be a case of young Muslims being indoctrinated by radicalized forms of Islam (as it certainly appears as of the time I write this), that doesn't completely answer the question as to why someone could coldly place bombs at the feet of innocent people and then walk away from them, knowing that death and destruction was about to descend upon these real people standing right there in front of them. The problem of terrorism is a familiar sort of problem, after all: it is at its deepest roots a failure to love, an ability to reduce other human beings to objects who are in the way, a coldness about others that is devoid of mercy, or pity, or reason--a complete inability to "Do unto others..." or to love other human beings as if even the most difficult of them to love were really another self, a beloved other. This is, in the end, why it is so important to root out from our own hearts that same tendency--which is, in most of us, thankfully far weaker than the impulse to kill and harm, but may take the form of the impulse to dismiss and denigrate, to sneer at or scorn: pale shadows of the worst forms of objectifying other human beings, but still troubling in their relation to those strains of darkness.
And that brings me to the "screaming babies" conversation. I admit, myself, that I struggle to love those who don't think children belong at Mass until they're capable of sitting still, or of doing advanced calculus, whichever comes first (I kid, but only slightly, as most parents know). I do need to try to put myself in their shoes a little, and to realize that as the second oldest of nine children I grew up mostly immune to baby noises apart from full-throated unrelenting colic-screaming (which came as something of a shock when Kitten was a baby, and which made me apologize to my mother for having to endure it with me). I need to remember that some people really do have such extreme sensitivities to their environment and surroundings that even the gentle, repetitive "Da-da-MMM-boo-shlursh-da-da-da" noise of a baby, or the indignant "But I AM being good!" announcement from a toddler is truly intolerable to the point where it interferes with their ability to pray at Mass, and I need to censor my first, second, and third impulses to advise those sensitive adults to get over themselves and, instead, think of a gentle, kind way to suggest that perhaps they could find a Mass at their parishes where children aren't present in large numbers so that they won't be troubled.
But the reason I struggle to be loving to those who are really intolerant of the mere presence of children at Mass is because I see that attitude as one which falls in with our culture's tendency to view children themselves as objects: noisy, messy, inconvenient, sleep-depriving objects who add no value to anyone's lives except perhaps those of their parents, for whom they are simply a chosen lifestyle accessory and not, as they were seen in other ages, as vital members of the community without whom the community in fact would not be able to continue at all. The worst form of that objectification of children is the form of terrorism known as abortion, which kills a living member of the human family when he or she is at his or her weakest and most vulnerable stage of development, still inside his or her mother's womb. But there are other forms of it as well, and a growing and vocal number of adults have started to treat children as unnecessary excrescences who simply Do Not Belong in a widely expanding circle of public places.
I think that most sane parents would agree that children, especially infants and toddlers, actually do not (generally speaking) belong in a few places, such as really fancy restaurants, live-action theaters (except for those putting on entertainments specifically for children), and a few other such venues. But in recent years I've seen adults gripe about children at sit-down casual dining chain restaurants (as if the fact that there's no clown or drive-thru automatically puts a restaurant out-of-bounds for families with small children), children at libraries, children at grocery stores or clothing stores, children accompanying Mommy to the bank, post office, or dry cleaners, and so on, children traveling with their parents on airplanes or trains or buses or staying with them in hotels, and on and on and on, as if we're supposed to be a society like that of Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where all the children are either imprisoned or hiding out of sight of the adults. Bear in mind, these complaints were not at all about children being miserably undisciplined or misbehaved in public; I have sympathy with those complaints. No, the complaints I'm talking about had to do with the mere fact that children were allowed to be present, and that in being children (e.g., talking, asking questions, appearing bored, etc.) they were a Serious Inconvenience to the unrelated adults who expected, apparently, to be surrounded by other adults, and only adults, at all times when in public.
Why is that troubling? Apart from the obvious reasons, I think that this attitude our society has toward children is, indeed, a failure to love--and specifically it is a failure to love the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable and most helpless of our members. We see this not only in our treatment of infants and small children, but in our treatment of the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the lost and the broken. One of the least appealing ideas Americans sometimes voice is the idea that we really are all completely equal such that a child's noisy behavior, an elderly person's issues, a disabled person's needs, etc. are almost a kind of fault--because these things clash with our "bootstraps" notions that everybody can get along just fine with hard work and ingenuity (and maturity and physical health and intellectual ability and inborn talent and wildly good luck and trust funds and...oh, wait, don't look at any of that). We end up putting an objectified value on human life itself such that we only celebrate those who are Doing Well, as if doing is somehow more important than being, as if worldly success matters more to God than a heart like this one.
Most of us fall short of such selfless love. This weekend, I got another glimpse of it, as Thad just stepped up and took care of everything without question or complaint, as loving husbands are wont to do. And I pondered sadly what the opposite of that selfless and sacrificial love looks like: drawn large in the portrait of a killer, and sketched faintly in the echoes of unwelcome that families with small children face in society today, even in our churches--and in my own heart, when I sit in judgment against those who complain about children instead of looking for mercy.