Another day, another tooth to be pulled at the dentist’s office. My teeth didn’t want to fall out. My orthodontist wanted them gone.
Each time, my mom would drive me to the office near Broughton High School. I was scared but trying to be brave. I hated the novacaine shot, I hated the wrenching pull, I hated the bloody mouth afterwards. I’d been to this party before. I was trying not to cry.
“I wish it were me instead of you,” my mother said softly, and she meant it. It was not the first or last time she said that. I have remembered.
Today, I’d love to offer you some words of another mother, as remembered by her son…
From Mike Kerrigan, an attorney practicing in Charlotte, NC (from the WSJ)…
Throughout my adolescence, my Irish Catholic mother said three important words to me more times than I can count. I don’t mean “I love you,” although she did frequently tell me that, even when I wasn’t very lovable. It was three different words: “Offer it up.”
You didn’t make the starting lineup on varsity, despite training hard all summer? Offer it up. SAT scores came back lower than you’d expected? Offer it up. Teenage heartbreak going into senior prom? That’s right, offer it up.
It was an expression of love in a catechetical and not saccharine sense. Donna Kerrigan was inviting her eldest son to participate in redemptive suffering, uniting life’s daily setbacks to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to serve his purposes in the world. Hers was a practical mysticism designed to ensure nary a drop of suffering – never in short supply in our broken world – go to waste.
I cannot say I immediately understood the spiritual habit she encouraged and, much more important, practiced. It seemed so quintessentially Irish, as if to say troubles will surely find us, so we might as well use them to warm our cottage rather than let the ill luck consume us.
Nor do I practice it perfectly now – knowing and doing are two very different things. I’m among the first to hat-tip the Man Upstairs when all is going well and I have, as Mark Twain put it, the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces. But rarely do I recall my private duty when I’m dealt a lesser hand.
This is a shame. If I “offered it up” a little more, I’m convinced the world would be remade anew. Over a century ago, G.K. Chesterton was reportedly asked by a British journalist what is wrong with the world today. His reply? “I am.” I can change nothing in this world except myself, and that is plenty.
Lost though often I am, every Mother’s Day I am reminded of the compass in my pocket of surpassing value, and the woman who put it there.