Of Sons and Mothers

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget… .” Isaiah 49:15

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you." - Augustine of Hippo

I must have noticed before today, August 27, that St. Monica’s feast day falls on my grandson Noah’s birthday, but I don’t remember ever having done so. And I would remember, for Noah died six years ago from alcohol poisoning, three weeks from his 26th birthday.

Noah was our daughter’s second child, and first son. His parents were wholly devoted, highly talented, educated, and focused, succeeding in everything. They took their parenting duties very seriously, providing their children with all advantages and full attention. Yet while Caitie, our granddaughter, took to every good thing offered with zeal, Noah was simply different. From the start—equally bright, equally gifted—he just…didn’t. After his death, his father said ruefully, “We never had a day with Noah that wasn’t a struggle.”

So it was with special poignancy that I opened my Magnificat this morning to August 27 for my Morning Prayer and noted the Feast Day of St. Monica, another mother whose heart was broken day after day for 32 years by her son Augustine, who until that age had lived a life of reckless abandon. Many tears were shed, many interventions tried, but we were not so blessed.

I cannot help but note that Noah would have turned 32 today.

We remain bewildered. Still, there is comfort: Less and less do I believe in coincidence, more and more in “sacramental moments”—those times in life when the veil between the world perceived and the greater reality becomes very thin, times when, if we listen very closely, we can hear God whisper through it, “Yes, I am here.”

So this day I will go to Mass, and before the icon of the One who says, “I will never forget” I will light two candles—one for St. Augustine and his mother, and one for Noah and his.