"Hope," Emily Dickinson wrote, "is the thing with feathers." It is indeed... but sometimes it is also a young priest in a cassock.
We've had a change of command at our parish and have two new priests. One, Fr. Engineer, I met years ago when I was teaching in the Catholic schools. He was the vocations director and came around to the eighth grade classes to tell his vocations story. The other one, Fr. Youngin', is young and new, but a really sweet man. (I joke that it's not that I'm getting older; the seminary just takes them younger and younger these days!)
After Mass on Sunday, I stood in the parish hall, chatting with a friend as our children gorged on donuts. Fr. Youngin' came over to chat, as our friend was hosting the priests for dinner that night. Normally, I would bug out during these conversations but I stayed and the three of us began to joke and chat.
At one point, I made a comment about how George once said that when he grew up, he wanted to "be that daddy" (a priest). I said that the front row would be reserved for all this speech therapists, because, without them, my son wouldn't have a voice. My friend understood but Fr Youngin' is new and blissfully unaware of George (and the issues we have had with the parish). I made the comment to him that, "My son has a severe speech disorder and trouble talking."
I expected questions.
I expected a blank nod.
Instead, I got: "I understand I was in speech therapy until I was 12. Sometimes people have trouble understanding me."
My jaw dropped to the floor. "You? Really? You?" He nodded. "No way."
My friend laughed at me and said, "You're going to cry, aren't you?" I nodded and nearly burst into tears.
I don't know what Fr. Youngin's problems were. I don't know if he had Apraxia, articulation or what. I do know how hard it can be for anyone, anyone, to get up in front of a group of people and talk, let alone for someone with ANY speech problem to do so.Yet he followed God's call and became a priest. Every weekend he stands before a full church and says an entire Mass, and often a homily. He goes to the local high school and interacts with the students- and we know how children can be with someone who acts or speaks differently.
And he does this. Every day. Every week.
I admire that, I do. But, selfishly, I know that this man will understand my son. He will understand when George doesn't want to talk to people because he knows they won't understand him. Maybe he will understand why VBS was like the seventh layer of hell for my son- overstimulating and scary because of all those people who don't know him. Maybe he quietly spread awareness and understanding of those invisible disabilities.
We have had so, so many problems with our parish since last summer that I had nearly given up hope of understanding and acceptence. Between my own spiritual life being "meh" and the constant judgement of several prominent members of the parish, I had been expecting to just muscle through, going through the motions but any growth for me or my children would have to be done at home. I had stopped expecting people to be kind and understanding; I had started expecting judgment.
We are still in the gale. I thought the storm had beaten the hope out of me but suddenly, I hear it again, quietly.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,