In A Jam

During my father in law’s illness, I have often been the family member to escort my mother in law, Barb, to church. When we were leaving today, she mentioned that she needed to stop by the fellowship hall to pick up Christmas jams and jellies she had ordered from the annual jam/jelly sale.

When she and I arrived at the jam/jelly sale, one of her friends said she had put Barb’s purchases aside, since Barb had prepaid. When I went to pick up the box of approximately 16 jars of jelly, the friend asked me if I needed help. A couple of conversations overlapped at that point. I was telling the friend that I was fine (I guess the question had to do with me carrying the box while Barb was holding my elbow in the usual position that a blind person does for mobility assistance). While I was saying I would be fine, the friend was recruiting her son, who looked to be around nine, to help me. Although I truly was fine, I also recognized that the mom was trying to encourage altruism in her child and I said something to her like, “well, are you looking for him to have a job to do?” Eventually it was agreed that her son Ryan would carry the box of jams.

Our little procession started out of the fellowship hall, with me guiding Barb in front and Ryan carrying the box a few steps behind us. We were stopped by quite a few people since everyone wants to know how my father in law is doing. We made it a few steps, and got stopped by another well wisher. At that point, a gentleman came up to Ryan and asked if he needed help. Although my eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head weren’t working, I think Ryan was actually doing fine but the adult made it clear that he wanted to take over.

I didn’t have time to explain the whole “his mother wants him to have a job” deal. And frankly by this point the afternoon’s obligations were stacking up in my mental calendar and I just. wanted. to. get. out. of. there. So we all got to the car, the jams were loaded, and Barb and I went off on our way.

The situation with Ryan reminded me of the time when Wayne Kevin was quite young (six or seven) and had run an entire 5K. He was faster than me at the time so I was behind him. When we crossed paths I knew he was farther ahead than he should be, and he told me one of the traffic control personnel told him to cut it short, I guess because he was “little” and “cute.” I was so annoyed!! And I was annoyed because Wayne had been doing fine on his own. Although he really didn’t care about his time in the race, the official time wouldn’t be accurate because he had not run the whole course and he wouldn’t have the pride of having done something he was perfectly capable of doing had an adult not intervened.

It seems a bit mean-spirited to snark about the adult who helped Ryan today. He was tremendously gracious and, like almost everyone we have encountered as we navigate the additional needs for transportation, food, and moral support as Wayne’s dad deals with his current medical situation, he just wanted to help.

But the situation sparked off a question in my mind so I thought I would share it with you readers and get some thoughts. (And it is World Kindness Week so feel free to remind me that the kindest thing I could have done would have been to delete about 627 words of this post and make it, “Thank you Ryan and you, Mr. Nice Guy who wanted to help.”

What a jam.

The A-U-A Tattoo

Three rare things happened to me this weekend:
1) I left a workshop with an easy-to-recall, useful takeaway concept.
2) The words “get a tattoo” were uttered at my mother-in-law’s Catholic church.
3) Number One and Number Two are related.
My mother-in-law, Barb, who is very active in her church, had invited my sister-in-law, my niece, and me to participate in the “Discernment of Spirits” women’s retreat being held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. I have been in the family for a long time, so I have participated in my share of activities at Blessed Sacrament (I am not Roman Catholic). Never have I heard “get a tattoo” before (although I have had some useful “takeaway concepts.”)
The theme for this retreat was “discernment of spirits.” Based largely on the work of Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V., our leader, Fr. Tim Holeda, took us on a zero-to-sixty study of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. I believe there were about six hours worth of teachings crammed into one. What stood out, though, were the three guiding principles Fr. Holeda gave before pressing the learning accelerator. He advised us that if we did nothing else, each of us should do these three things when considering “different movements which are caused in the soul, the good — to receive them, and the bad — to reject them.”
1) Be Aware
2) Understand
3) Take Action
Those three actions are what he told us to “tattoo” on ourselves. Although he repeatedly joked that he didn’t literally mean for us to get tattoos, every time the word “tattoo” came up, the three-part approach was reinforced in my mind.
And, honestly, when I really thought about the process of getting a tattoo (not that I know from personal experience), it made perfect sense to me to use “tattoos” as a metaphor.
For one thing, most people I know who have gotten tattoos have thought long and hard about what image they want representing them. Especially if they are only going to get one tattoo ever, it’s a big decision. It requires awareness of who the person is at the moment, and some awareness of what the individual foresees in their future. Getting a tattoo also requires an understanding of what the image will convey to those who see it, and the physical effects on the recipient. Lastly, taking action is probably, for the person receiving the tattoo, a mixture of anxiety at taking the risk and enduring the pain, and satisfaction at seeing a decision-making process come to closure.
I couldn’t get this image out of my mind, so I did a little poking around.  It turns out that Christian tattoos are not all that rare.  Having done a little research, I found sites like This site, in addition to containing a gallery of religious tattoos, also explores the relationship between tattoos and theology. I started playing around with a “Holy Spirit Tattoo.”  Here is the original:
And with a little bit of editing magic, I came up with the tattoo we might have ended up with yesterday had we all really gone that route:
I deleted the Bible verse from the original and added a simple “a-u-a.” The first “a” for awareness, the “u” for understanding, and the second “a” for action.
I don’t think any of our local tattoo parlors are going to be flooded with the good ladies of Blessed Sacrament and other local Catholic churches, seeking “a-u-a” tattoos. But the longer I look at it, the more I think, “that actually could make a nice suncatcher”! 
The blessing of the workshop is that it’s easy to remember “a-u-a” even if I don’t have a physical reminder.
(Thank you to Father Tim and the Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild who produced this retreat.)