Monasteries of the Heart

One Moment

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I’m reading a book called The Moment. It’s edited by Larry Smith who popularized the six-word autobiography a few years ago. In this book, 125 writers and artists (famous and obscure) were asked to share a moment that had a big impact on the teller’s life—“the good, the bad, the embarrassing.”

Rock artist Melissa Etheridge told about making the decision to perform her hit, Piece of My Heart, at the 2005 Grammy’s though she was bald after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Alan Cheuse of NPR remembers being four or five years old and hearing “my father clacking away on the keys of an old Remington typewriter” and was drawn into the world of words. You get the idea.

The book got me thinking about “transforming” moments in my life. One that strutted to the front of my memory happened when I was nine or ten. My cousin was getting married in a Unitarian church and all the relatives were invited. In those pre-Vatican II days it was a mortal sin to go to a wedding outside the Catholic Church. And mortal sins were punished by eternal hell flames. My father announced that we were all going and I, an extremely pietistic child, rushed to the vestibule of our parish church—located next door to our home—and pulled out one of those pamphlets on mortal sins. I remember standing in the house, sobbing barrels of tears as I read aloud from the pamphlet about how we would all go to hell if we listened to my father and went to this non-Catholic wedding. My father listened patiently for a few minutes then told me to stop. “Get you coat, Mary Lou,” he said, “we’re going. This is your family and their feelings take precedence over any man-made law. People marry each other in the presence of God. That’s what’s important. Now get your coat.” Tears streaming down my face, I went to my eternal damnation.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize what a gift my father gave. My dad, whom I worshiped, thought it was all right to break a law for a greater good. Laws—government of church—he helped me figure out, were meant to help people and when they hurt others, instead, it was imperative to break them. That’s why I do civil disobedience to protest laws of war and injustice; that why I let no church law take precedence over my conscience.

How about your “moment?”