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Impatient at God’s skill at matching


The room’s glowing with camaraderie -- or is it the pain pills? I’ve celebrated my 40th birthday by throwing my back out, and now I’m high on codeine and even the toaster’s glowing. Wait -- that’s toast for my mom’s famous deviled ham canapés. I watch her feed one to my friend’s baby boy, cuddling him close on her lap and stroking the crumbs from his fat cheeks. If only she had a grandbaby of her own, I think ruefully.

Then I realize it’s a double miss -- my friend’s parents, never much enamored of even their own children, have barely noticed her firstborn. She hides her disappointment well -- right now she’s talking brightly about politics -- but she keeps glancing over at my mom and smiling.

Two other friends have sunk deep into the sofa, their laps burdened with shrimp. One’s a gay man whose partner, Tom, nags him constantly to care more about their house: How can he be such a slob and travel all the time and forget to tell the lawn care people about the underground sprinklers? The other, Jean, has an expatriate husband who just put the Atlantic between them, claiming he could no longer face their cozy suburban life and its incessant home improvement projects.

Shame Tom’s not straight, I think idly, or he and Jean could do the Martha Stewart thing and set the other two free. My eyes rove around the room, falling next on an intelligent, coolly fastidious woman fresh from an Edith Wharton novel. Her husband, standing with impeccable formal courtesy at her side, longs for kids and a dog and a yard -- all of which represent her idea of hell, or at least a bad sitcom. They’re being introduced to a new couple that, unbeknownst to them, are their mirror image, with the wife yearning for a baby and the husband unable to even say the word without freezing between syllables.

Impatient at God’s lousy matching skills, I shake my head sharply, and the Vicodin wooze free falls into my stomach. Maybe the Israelis had the right idea with the kibbutz, I think queasily. Maybe you need at least 50 people cooperating before everyone’s dreams can be fulfilled.

Or did we all sabotage ourselves, gravitating toward the very people who could not complete us?

I take the baby onto my lap, wondering if I would have felt more comfortable with this moist helpless bundle of joy if my mom, who sacrificed huge chunks of her life to raise me, hadn’t urged me in a different direction? The baby’s mom, on the other hand, is determined to create the nurturing home she never quite experienced herself. My gay friend might be tired of being chastised about the housework, but he was drawn to Tom in the first place because living with him meant creating a home. My friend who yearns for a yard and kids yearned even more fiercely for a woman who understood his old-fashioned ways.

Pascal wrote of the God-shaped vacuum in each of us, but he forgot to mention the gaping holes left by all our unmet needs and buried dreams. Surely this is the very stuff of tragedy, the curse of being human?

My husband is watching the baby, his eyes soft. When he glances up I expect a twist of pain at our decision, and instead what flies between us is more tenderness, a shared acceptance of what we have and what we’ll miss. The baby’s mom is hugging my mom goodbye with extra warmth. My friends on the sofa are engrossed, the shrimp plates teetering as they each labor to explain the baffling behavior of the other’s absent partner.

Gradually the Vicodin wears off, and my all too human body makes its limits known. The limits might be painful, I decide, but they’re not tragic in the least. Our unmet needs teach and shape and soften us, even more than the dreams we manage to fulfill.

The holes might look random and hollow, but they open a way to the God shape.

Jeannette Batz is a staff writer for The Riverfront Times, an alternative newspaper in St. Louis. Her e-mail address is jeannette.batz@rftstl.com

National Catholic Reporter, April 27, 2001