Things will get better when…
How do you finish the phrase?
It’s a sentence starter I would often monitor during my meetings with couples for marriage preparation.
People who buy a ring and set a date do so with good intentions — registries are just an added bonus. And no matter which road is supposedly paved with them, good intentions sure beat any other kind. Where, pray tell, do bad intended pavers lead, Old Wives?
Marriage preparation, though, helps explore what’s underneath those intentions. Like a Department of Public Works dig, you might find a stack of bricks or you might find a babbling brook. And like a Department of Public Works dig, they will have been there a while.
A helpful tool to assess the building site is a couple inventory: a long, long series of statements couples express levels of agreement to. Mainly online these days, the test can still supply a trip back to scholastic yesteryear, with certain parishes handing out pencils and scantrons for completion.
You had the very young couples, who would swear by their “strongly agree” bubbling that nothing they could learn about their future spouse could ever cause any question of their love. Is that realistic, I would ask, as they shared a single couch cushion?
You had others who would stick with the middle choices, comfortable enough to name a topic of indecision but not enough to go in too deep. Is that realistic, I would ask, as they sat on neighboring couch cushions?
And then you had a few who would name significant concerns but determine those would be resolved shortly after the reception second line. Not Kyle-and-Amanda-Summer-House problems (I don’t know of any “you will refund my parents if you call it off” contracts), but some bigger issues.
Their regular reply to my concern: “Things will get better when…”
Is that realistic, I would ask, as they sat on the bookend couch cushions?
A wedding might lead to a change in residence, will lead to a change in schedule, should lead to some change in priorities. And that can help a couple, when distance or time creates barriers. But, generally, you marry the person you marry. Improvement — like a Zion Williamson sighting — is lagniappe.
We can all play this “things will get better when…” game outside of marriage, too. I spent the last month strapped to my desk, hustling to complete one big assignment — and hoping to still keep up with everything else. A good day was spent with more than six hours out of sweatpants. “Things will get better when…I turn this doggone thing in.”
And things are better. You know, to a great extent. Did you know normal pants have pockets?!
But deadline or not, it’s still me in the end, with more tasks, more deadlines, more stuff.
To find meaning in any madness — without deluding ourselves through some magic “things will get better when…” wand — is the mission of hope. Hope is not flying above it all, but feeling what’s underneath and still keeping on. Hope, as they say, floats — that is, it touches the terror but pushes up.
As I was weighing this need for hope, my thumbs started itching at Immaculate Conception Church. It was before the morning Mass — thanks to a streetcar operator who only stepped out of the cab twice during the early morning route — but not too soon to not be noticed.
The church lady (thank God there is always a church lady) thought she recognized me. “Don’t you do the newspaper?”
My dad’s headshot is a little dated…
And masks these days, who can tell what we really look like??
“No, ma’am, that’s my dad,” I shouted at her pew cleaning post, two aisles away.
“Oh. I wanted to know when you gonna do an article on Little Jesus?”
Little Jesus? I’m well-versed in pious traditions. (Did I ever tell you about the church in Rome that claims to have a “vial of darkness?” You know, of the Egyptian plague?) But “Little Jesus?” Isn’t that a Will Ferrell sketch?
She continued. “Little Jesus cleans this church. Then I go to Holy Rosary and St. Dominic.”
Ahhh…she’s “Little Jesus” — and Little Jesus wants an article.
Uncertain if Little Jesus could possibly be part of my tens of readers (and how I could possibly be do a profile piece when there’s so much to cover in our wastewater and tearful coaching goodbyes), I left her to her daily service. And that’s when Little Jesus’ lesson hit me: that’s hope.
That one day I can make it in the Clarion Herald!
No, not that part. The service part. Hope hits when we help each other. Things may get better when x or y or zzz’s finally come. And things may not. But finding reason to perform little acts of service brings the meaning.
With her sweeping and cleaning (and healthy self-promoting), Little Jesus had reminded me of hope, as well as Immaculate Conception’s old pastor, Fr. Harry Tompson. Famous for streetwise quips for an uptown audience, Fr. Harry liked to tell a story of a successful man struggling to find meaning. Things will get better when… the incompletable phrase. Listening to the first-world travails long enough, Fr. Harry simply replied, “Get off your keister and help somebody.”
(Ok, he didn’t say “keister,” but just in case Little Jesus is reading this to a Little Jesus, Jr., we sanitize Fr. Harry slightly.)
Amid all our stuff, it’s a lesson worth trying out.
Life will be better when… we help somebody.
Looking forward to next week’s “Welcome, Coach Brian Flores” post! My rule of thumb: if he’s not liked by the NFL, he’s liked by me. Make a statement to the commissi-czar and the 58% Black workforce, Ms. Gayle! I bet these guys would have some considered reflections on the news.
And speaking of sports and SNL, Peyton Manning does us right here. A fresh take on feminism — finally!