STORIES OF MERCY

The Cloth

Adeline froze. She gaped wide-eyed at the table cloth, her normally demure smile startled off her face, her jaw slightly dropped revealing perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth. Her usually sweet, sparkling eyes froze wide in wondrous horror, their grey hazel details attempting to also convey puzzlement. She was, in her entirety, frozen mid-step. Precariously balanced, with one foot too far ahead and an arm swung awkwardly to counter, she atrophied at the corner of the dining room table. She had not meant to freeze this way. She had yet to realize she had frozen this way. She was too engrossed by the object of her horror.

It was so far an Easter Sunday unlike any she’d ever experienced. Though Catholic, her usual was the interdenominational Easter Sunrise service. That not only hadn’t happened this year, but the whole of her known Easter rhythm was shattered. This Easter morning she slept in. More accurately, she’d needed to sleep in, having gotten to bed at four in the morning. The night before, she’d attended Easter Vigil Mass with her fiancé and his parents.

She had been raised to respect tradition, an upbringing being sorely tested as her traditions smashed into his traditions and she attempted to gracefully step out of hers and into his this Easter.

Somewhere in the eighty adult baptisms, she had stopped being graceful. The irony had yet to dawn on her. It would eventually and she would realize what she’d thought of as grace all her life was instead pride. Real grace was something else entirely, and she’d tasted it deeply witnessing those baptisms. A fire for faith burned hot in those women and men, a fire for which she hungered, a hunger she feared.

Fire. That is how it began. They’d stood in darkness. Fire poured in from outside, a singular distant beacon of hope. Then the light spread, abolishing darkness, as candles were lit one to the next. More readings than she knew could be read at once, singing, all those baptisms and confirmations and first eucharists — Robert had explained this was the highest Mass of the year, which she now knew meant longest and fullest. Rich amazing splendor and grace, of which she knew very little. Like a woman languishing in the hot sands to the point of delirium, believing herself shipshape, who miraculously, discordantly, finds herself saved, Adeline found herself at the highest table of splendor and grace of the highest king, lavished with richest foods where she came horribly face to face with the truth of her impoverishment and her unworthiness.

Prim and proper. Essential elements of her traditions, blazoned into her since she was a child of six and audaciously ran down at four-thirty Christmas morning to see the tree without washing up and getting properly dressed. Her father had taken her Christmas gifts that year and put them in the trash without being unwrapped. She still winced through tear blurred memories at the sight of wrapped presents and never trusted they were hers until she’d opened them. Giving wasn’t given until possessed.

Her future in-law's home was proper enough. Solid middle class. Clearly a home that helped raise nine children, six of them boys become men, it bore its welts with loving dignity. Scars from chases gone wrong, painted over art patches, and a baseball bat treasure hunt through the dining room dry wall were evident on the tour of her fiancé’s life she received from his ebullient father, Ernie.

Chips in the wood floor from exuberant toy truck crashes, dings and dents all over the kitchen cabinets. The weals raked at her sensibilities. Prim and proper homes didn’t have scars. Yet the dissonant cacophony deepened within. She felt a warmth here. Love embraced her the moment she entered. It set her on edge.

The cloth. At once it grated against her, challenging her sensibility yet drawing her inexplicably and inextricably. Yet not to itself. Through itself, despite itself. Its maker was highly skilled in the fine art of lace. Crafted with stunning patience and humility, white lace silk of the intricate, refined, shimmery kind, so deftly spun in a complex pattern such that daily progress must have been measured in finger widths. Uniquely unified the pattern subtly advanced and amazingly never repeated. Beneath this deft lace lay a solid warp and weft of ever so slightly off white raw silk with subtle nubbies which Adeline would have seen as flaws had she paid particular attention.

Sadly, for all the beauty of the master weaver’s craft, her eye was drawn elsewhere — to greater flaws of poor usage which bespoke not only of ill use but, far more harshly, poor care, and yet more severely, stunningly poor comportment by her future mother-in-law for placing such a monstrosity into view and use for Easter company. It was insulting. The woman had shown such promise for her skill of doing far more with far less through cunning and craft.

All Adeline saw was the stains. It appeared as though this finest cloth, which was worthy of the finest table in the highest house of all the lands, were it pristine, had sat upon the lowly daily table of her future husband’s parents’ home where it was exposed to a year’s worth of egg yoke, bacon fat splat, dribbled sauces of unknown variety yielding everything from beige to dark brown, purple pink cranberry, and other assaults too numerous to mention. Surely that was a blueberry blotch next to a deeply dark tomato splatter looking as if the cloth itself was so tormented it bled in sorrow of its own estate?

Slaughter. Atrocity. These words did not cross Adeline’s mind, but the horror etched upon her face spoke of her gross over reaction. Wildly out of proportion to the state of any tablecloth, she appeared as if she was witness to the most merciless war crimes, having stumbled on the macabre evidence in plain view, on oddly proud display.

As they did with the doomed table cloth, they ignored the obvious revulsion which froze poor Adeline. With gentle chivalry, Ernie took hold of her elbow and aided her to her chair. He drew it out, guided her to a soft landing, and assisted her in tucking close to the cloth.

All this love was, for the moment, completely lost on her. As the tablecloth she had become.

Through her fog of shell shock, without knowing how she arrived at her place or how much time past, she vaguely realized Ernie sat at the head of the table engrossed in telling a family story.

“… mechanical difficulties so the pilot miraculously landed. No nose gear! Only one engine! There we sat at a remote airfield in some former Soviet Bloc country. With unexpected time on my hands, I wandered into the small village nearby and found myself drawn to the market square, and, as if it were calling me, directly to this tablecloth at a booth where sat a minuscule wrinkle of a woman whose opening price for the cloth was astonishingly low. I countered with five times her price, one of her wrinkles parted ear to ear, all grinning gums, quickly accepted, wrapped it in plain brown butcher paper, tied it with string, and by the time I was back to the airfield another military transport was preparing for takeoff. You’d think I’d be concerned about mechanics, but after two years in the desert and the war I thought only of home.”

Ernie looked to his bride with crinkled, sparkling eyes, as if passing the story on to her in a dance created over years of love together. Rebecca continued without pause …

“My Ernie was home! I greeted him in the hanger, with Robert and all the rabble beside me. Oh! What treasure to have him back, safe in my arms!

“He gave me this astonishingly beautiful cloth. I was so excited at his return, I set the cloth on the table for our welcome home dinner and despite all the children it somehow made it to dessert without a spill. But Charles was greedy for thirds of the three berry pie. Splat! That’s when Sandra coined the phrase “It was glorious! Then it was clean-up!” Except try as I might nothing would get out the dark purple and red stain. I became so desperate I even tried bleach — on silk! The blemish was more stubborn than my husband!

“Loving the cloth, I returned it to our family table. It was ruined anyway, so we might as well enjoy it. It was about this time of year and we added a few more stains in the coming week. We left it on even into Holy Week, admiring its beauty despite our mess. There it lay for every meal, and though well ruined by Easter brunch, I left it on for that too. That’s when Ernie prayed … “

Ernie held out his hands and all around the table the now grown family and a number of grandchildren (some more chaotic than others) all looked deeply and lovingly into each others’ eyes, including Adeline's, who wondered at the knowing look and tingling anticipation which passed to her in these glimpses. Somehow, they knew she was like as to the cloth and they were unwavering in their faith that she and the cloth would be restored to better than new.

“Blessed are you, Lord God, Creator of the universe, for in your goodness you have brought me home from a living hell to my Beloved Wife and our beautiful children."

Ernie stood and bowed to them, as he had so many years ago. They all returned the bow, even a sideways glancing Adeline, as he said, “I bow to Christ in you, who gave himself into death to rise to new life and give us that same gift, by His blood and water may we be washed clean!”

Everyone looked down at the table cloth. From the midst of the enormous tomato stain a brilliant white erupted, growing outward. Adeline stared in wide-eyed wonder as the light burned away the stain. Growing outward, the light spread, restoring, mending, and in all ways making new the cloth to its original, pristine, unfrayed white. Gaining momentum, the stains rapidly vanished before the tide of light.

The family raised their hands high, a wrinkle splitting each face ear to ear. Ernie triumphantly cried, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”

The family all responded, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”
<p>Through a new, now joyous, tear-blurred memory, Adeline joined the chorus, a new light shinning forth.</p>

 

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Uncategorized, Year of Mercy, Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs

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