A Hymn of Praise
Helen sat down at her desk in the sewing room and thought. It had been so long since she had the opportunity, that she almost forgot how. She used to like to just sit and think when she was a young girl. She had never considered that one day it would become such a luxury; no one told her that someday her time would no longer be hers. It's not that she regretted giving her time to others. The Lord gave us time so we could love and help each other. But she knew that she was given a gift. A gift she treasured deeply. It was just so frustrating that a lack of time was keeping her from giving back to the Lord that which she received.
Helen looked around at the mess on the desk and tried to remember where she had put her music notebook. Bill had found a notebook specially made for writing music and Helen had planned to use it immediately, but something had prevented her from writing that day. In fact, she could count on something to come up if she so much as thought of sitting down to write. Helen thought nostalgically of the days during college when she was free to do nothing but sit and translate the music inside her head to the music on the page. She was good, or so she was told. People often told her that she had a gift and should capitalize on it. But somehow, it just wouldn't seem right. Writing music was what she did for pleasure. It was almost too personal of an endeavor to capitalize on. Of course, this was before she developed a relationship with the Lord. The joy she felt when she found a deeper meaning to her life strained to leap from her heart to the written page. She longed to express her love, her gratitude by writing a hymn. And what a hymn it would be! She would sing praises, she would write the most beautiful melody ever played, she would show the world how much she loved Jesus! She longed to do God's work, but something always came up.
Helen looked around again for the notebook and spied a corner of it underneath a stack of papers. Digging through the mess, she removed old papers colored on by loving little hands. Hands so small, that at one time, they looked as if they could get lost in her own. She smiled as she remembered the day Sarah colored that picture. Sarah was so proud of herself. It was funny; Helen couldn't remember any of the works painted by the old masters ever giving her so much joy. But that beautiful little hand wasn't so little anymore, and this fact diminished the smile on Helen's face.
Before she could organize her thoughts, the phone rang. As she answered it, her voice automatically assumed a much more friendly tone than she felt inside. "Hello, Helen?," asked the voice. Helen immediately recognized the voice as someone for whom she cared very little. "Hello Amanda, how are you today?" Helen inserted all the correct inflections and nuances designed to mask one's real feelings. Amanda continued, "Would you be a dear and run Mrs. Pollack over to her doctor's visit? You're always such a help. Thank you, Hon'". Amanda hadn't even waited for an answer. Helen hung up the phone and drew a big breath. She was sorry for her feelings toward Amanda. She was sorry that she was being taken for granted. But most of all, she was sorry that she was sorry. Wasn't she supposed to be freely giving of herself? Sometimes she thought that she was the only one who had heard of giving. But these thoughts were getting her nowhere. She picked up her pocketbook, dug up Mrs. Pollack's address, and headed out for the car. Helen sighed as she realized that she would have just enough time to do her "volunteer" work before Sarah would be getting off the bus from school.
Helen made it to the bus stop just in time to meet Sarah and give her a warm hug. Next to the time they shared when putting Sarah to bed, this was her favorite time of day. "How was your day, baby?" "Mom, do you have to call me a baby?", Sarah asked with genuine annoyance. "You know you'll always be my baby", said Helen. She could remember a time when Sarah didn't mind the reference. "Oh Mom, give it up", muttered Sarah as she looked out the window. The rest of the ride was shrouded in an uneasy silence. Sarah was out of the car as soon as it came to a stop in the driveway. She hurried into the house and rushed into her room for her nightly isolation. Helen hadn't had time to put her pocketbook down when the phone began to ring. The voice on the line droned on about some kind of "space age" coating for the outside of her house. Helen kept her patience as she waited for a pause in the sales pitch. Lord, this guy's got lungs of steel. He's got to breathe sometime. "No, thank you", she answered when he finally paused. She politely waited for the salesman to hang up before she did. Guess I can't blame him. Everyone's got to make a living.
Helen drew a deep breath and started in with the nightly ritual. Cook, clean, check homework, and make her check-up calls. Helen joined a committee at church that volunteered to call the shut-in members of the congregation just to see how they were doing and to provide an ear for those people who rarely got to socialize. In fact, sometimes it seemed that she was the only person that these people got to talk to all day. Consequently, Helen usually made that the last duty of the night. If one of the "old dears" wanted to go on and on, then Helen could indulge them knowing that all of the rest of her duties were done.
"Sarah, dinner's ready", Helen called out. She continued to set the table as Sarah plopped down and rested her head in her hands. There was a long silence before Helen was done setting the table. She sat down and said Grace. When she opened her eyes after the prayer, she was startled to see Sarah standing over her. "Oh Mom, I'm sorry", cried Sarah. "I didn't mean to be rude to you". Sarah hugged her mother. "I've been having a hard time at school, and, well, I'm sorry". Sarah then stood up straight, walked over to her seat and sat down. Helen could see Sarah close up as fast as she had opened up. "Honey, let's talk about it this time, please", Helen implored. Sarah wouldn't answer. Damn! When will she let me in? She was so close that time.
Sarah took two more spoonfuls of soup, stood up and marched into her room, slamming the door behind her. She could hear Sarah sobbing in her room, but her daughter wouldn't answer when Helen called. Helen remembered growing up to be hard, but nothing like this. Sometimes Helen felt that would just burst if Sarah wouldn't share her problems with her. Doesn't she know how bad I want to help her? Why won't she let me?
Helen cleared the dishes off of the table. There was no use in trying to approach Sarah now. She would just wait until this most recent of storms had blown over.
When Helen had finished washing the dishes, she sat and wondered if Sarah was doing her homework. If she wasn't, would Helen make an issue of it? Where was Bill when she needed him?
It seemed so recent that Bill had left. Perhaps that was due to the fact that Helen had been so busy, she hardly noticed the passing of time. And with Sarah growing worse, she was even more preoccupied. Helen never replayed the breakup in her mind. Denial is a drug. She distinctly remembered forgetting about it.
Helen heard Sarah's bedroom door open. Sarah crept out as one who was testing the waters. Her eyes were puffy and raw. Helen opened her mouth to try to comfort her, but Sarah raised her hand in a gesture requesting silence. Helen had never seen the look that was spread across Sarah's face, and she was beginning to get scared, very scared.
Sarah opened her mouth and formed the words in agonizingly slow motion. The words came out likewise, as if someone were dragging their hand on a spinning record. Helen stared stupidly at Sarah when she had finished. There were so many words, but Helen heard nothing after the word "pregnant".
It was very quiet in the house. Helen stayed up all night. She had found her quiet time but it was not all that it was cracked up to be. Sarah would be getting up soon and Helen hadn't worked it out in her mind. Her body was in conflict. Her heart went out to Sarah. Her fists demanded satisfaction. Her eyes had long since spent themselves of their tears. And her mind-well she was still working on that.
The door to Sarah's bedroom slowly creaked open. Helen could hear the footsteps go down the hall on the bare linoleum and into the bathroom. She tried to steel herself for the events of this morning, whatever they may be. Nothing was resolved last night. Helen was unable to express her feelings. If anything good came from last night, it was that many questions were answered. Helen didn't seem to know her daughter lately. Helen blamed herself, her life, her failed marriage. But she never anticipated this. And she had no idea how she was going to handle it.
Sarah came up the hall and stopped at the entrance to the living room. For a second, mother stared at daughter and daughter stared back. Helen knew that their whole future depended on what she did in the next few seconds, and she was a little startled when her arms came up, beckoning her daughter. Sarah's face was a mixture of relief and shame. The two women sat in each other's arms and wept. It had been so long since Helen had held her baby- her daughter-in her arms and Helen knew that she did the best thing she could.
Later on that morning, Helen and Sarah sat at the kitchen table in silence. It wasn't an uneasy silence, but rather a sorting out period that could only be possible because the two didn't have to worry about how to regard each other. There was, however, a very important question that burned in Helen's heart-a question that she didn't have the courage to ask. She had always tried to instill the Church's teachings in her daughter, but Sarah, like many other teenagers, had never shown much interest in the subject.
A second question entered her mind- a question that she was surprised that she hadn't considered until now. Who was the father? There was no-one that Sarah had dated regularly. There wasn't even any of the boys that Sarah hung out with that Helen didn't like. My God, Sarah, how could you be so careless, so foolish? Don't you know what this will do to your future? But this was not a time for judgement, it was a time for support.
Helen realized that her little girl had a lot of growing up to do in a short amount of time. She grieved for her daughter's lost childhood. She wasn't particularly enamored with the adult world and didn't want to see her daughter rushed into it, but Helen also realized that Sarah had some grown-up decisions to make and Helen was determined to let her daughter make them herself-to a point. There was one thing that was not up for negotiation. About this, Helen was adamant. But how did Sarah feel?
"Mom, I know what you're thinking," said Sarah, "but it isn't important about the father. Please promise to never ask. I don't think you would want to know, anyway. But please believe me, I didn't want this to happen." Well, who the hell ever does?, thought Helen. "O.K., baby...I mean...," Helen started to correct herself. "It's O.K., mom, you can call me that. The truth is, I feel a whole lot like a baby right now. I know it hurts you that this has happened, and if I could make it all go back to the way it used to be, I would." Not a good sign, thought Helen, as she sipped her coffee.
The ringing of the telephone interrupted Helen just as she had mustered the courage to ask the question at her lips.
"And good morning to you Father."
"Yes, I'd be happy to."
"No, no trouble at all."
Helen replaced the phone wearily, and sat back down in front of her coffee.
"Mom, don't they ever give you a rest? You haven't slept all night, and they have you running around already. You have to learn to say 'no'."
"When should I start, Sarah? Now, or after I help you? Don't you realize that people are hurting all over? Just on our block alone, I bet there is more suffering and loneliness than you would imagine. Honey, you're young yet and I don't expect you to know about such things, but ..." Helen's impromptu sermon trailed off. She was suddenly struck with an idea.
"Listen, I have an idea. I have to go down to the hospital and bring someone communion. Why don't you come along? Go ahead and get dressed."
Helen pulled the old Ford into the hospital parking lot and parked in the space marked "Clergy". She knew the priest wouldn't be in until later this afternoon, so she wouldn't worry about it. Helen motioned for Sarah to follow as she entered the long corridor that, unbeknownst to Sarah, led to the maternity ward.
As they approached the threshold of the maternity ward, an excitement came over Helen. She knew her daughter. The moment Sarah catches a glimpse of those precious bundles of life, there will be no question of how she'll decide. And Sarah will be a good, caring mother. Helen couldn't believe that last thought. Sarah was still a baby in Helen's mind.
When Sarah caught a glimpse of the sign to the Maternity Ward, she froze in her tracks. A look of betrayal colored her face and her previously bright eyes went blank.
"Sarah, I thought...I mean if you just saw...", stammered Helen. "Mom, are you trying to punish me?", Sarah asked incredulously. "Sarah, don't rush into any decision that you may regret for the rest of your life! Sarah, look at me!" She grabbed her daughter by the shoulders and shook her. Damn choice! Damn rights! This is a battle for life and death. No holds barred.
Helen softened as she realized people were watching them from down the hallway. She pulled back and looked Sarah in the eyes. "Honey, let's just talk about it", pleaded Helen. Sarah said quietly, but deliberately, "Mom, it's too late." "No, baby, please don't decide right now", pleaded Helen. "You don't understand, I told you last night, it's too late!", screamed Sarah, as she ran down the hall.
When Helen got back to her car, Sarah was sitting in the front seat sobbing. Helen sat down on the seat, reached over, and took her young daughter in her arms. She couldn't believe that Sarah would have done such a thing without coming to her first, but surprisingly, she was not angry. The sight of her child hurting so bad pushed any thoughts of judgement from her mind. She was a mother and her only thought was to stop the hurting. She loved Sarah so much. Helen vowed that she would find a way to get Sarah's life back to normal. She would see about counseling, be there when Sarah needed her, and never, never make her feel guilty or shamed by her adolescent decision.
"I'm so sorry...", began Sarah as Helen put the car in reverse. "Honey, I love you", Helen interrupted, "and I promise we will spend more time together. We need each other, and it's time we stop fighting it. Neither one of us is as strong as we think. But together, we can help each other through anything. O.K.?"
Back at home, with Sarah finally calmed down and in bed, Helen sat in her darkened living room, and contemplated how she would change her life so that she could support Sarah and get her the help she needed. She realized that she would have to suspend her volunteer work for a while and her plans of writing that one glorious hymn of praise would have to wait even longer. Forgive me Lord, Helen prayed, I want so bad to do your work, but my child needs me right now.