Magazine article U.S. Catholic

For You: To Holy Week We Bring All the World's Sorrow and Suffering as Well as Our Own, and We Know That It Is Only in the Resurrection That Hope for Healing Abides

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

For You: To Holy Week We Bring All the World's Sorrow and Suffering as Well as Our Own, and We Know That It Is Only in the Resurrection That Hope for Healing Abides

Article excerpt

THEY CALLED it Sunday school. But in reality it was no more than day-care for rowdy 5-year-olds. As a teenager, I allowed myself to be talked into managing a summer program on Sunday mornings for the kindergarten crowd, but from the beginning I could tell it was going to be a disaster.

I didn't know the first thing about children, was in fact terrified of them, and had no experience at the head of a classroom. My only credentials seemed to be that I had brothers and sisters. "Don't worry," the program administrator told me soothingly. "All they're going to do is color pictures of Jesus."

And every Sunday morning, week after week, that activity more or less comprised the religion lesson for the day. What else could be done with them, when there was no budget for supplies and no further instruction for the hapless teacher?

Each Sunday the great room of an old Victorian house attached to the parish filled with a mixed group of girls and boys, and most of the time I had only one other teen assistant to help keep the habitual bullies from punching the lights out of the chronic victims. That, and passing out crayons, were the bulk of our responsibilities.

When the coloring sheets were thoroughly scribbled on and each child's work admired, we had a brief snack of parish-sponsored milk and cookies, and then the children were released into the yard to run off the sugar. The very first week I noticed the girl who didn't spring from her seat with joyful relief and dash to the door with the test of them.

She stayed bowed over her desk, her face hidden by long, stringy hair that had not been combed or washed recently. But she wasn't coloring. The crayons were untouched in the pencil tray of her desk, and the picture of Jesus surrounded by happy children lay undisturbed in front of her. "Jane," I said carefully, grateful to have remembered her name from the roster. "Don't you want to go outside?" She didn't answer of look up. "Don't you want to color?" There was no movement or sound. I could have been talking to a stuffed doll.

I went to the doorway and motioned to the assistant that she should monitor the play in the sunny yard, which suited her fine. I closed the door and sat down in a rocking chair near Jane's desk. Through the veil of her hair I could see streaks of tears silently tracing her cheeks. "Jane?" I repeated helplessly. She didn't reply.

HERE WAS A PREVIEW OF THE SUMMER: THE BOYS FOUGHT, the girls colored, they are their snacks and ran into the yard the moment we opened the door. Jane did not participate in anything, didn't interact with the other children or the group leaders. Mostly she sat hidden behind her disheveled hair, her clothes looking like she might have slept in them. Often she cried without making a sound. I sat inside with her during recess, stared all around the room at scribbled pictures of Jesus, and prayed for divine guidance.

The day arrived when I finally went over to her desk and lifted the poor creature into my arms. She weighed next to nothing, and her body language was limp and doll-like, neither resistant nor compliant. I brought her to the rocking chair and sat down, holding her against me, and rocked as carefully as if I had a lapful of dynamite. She dampened my shirt with her tears but said nothing. Eventually, the sentry of her inner world relaxed its guard, and then Jane clung to me.

The parent who came to retrieve Jane each week was uncommunicative, like his daughter. And I was 14 and ignorant. I didn't know the first thing about intervention, agencies of referral, or what might be done. I could tell this child was needy, hungry, and neglected, but so were a lot of the kids in the program, yet they didn't seem as broken as Jane. I didn't know what to do, so I did only what I knew how to do: I held onto her.

For the rest of the summer, for a half hour on Sundays, I held a scrawny little girl and rocked her while she cried her heart out. …

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