The grace that binds

The doorbell rang in the middle of the chaos. My son staggered over, pulled open the door, and a kid was there — maybe 9 years old. 

My son looked down at his 5-year-old nephew, who was hanging at his side. “The kid a friend of yours?” my son asked. “Maybe,” he replied, meaning that he was placing no bets until he knew how the cards read. 

Three generations are in the daughter’s house together. I’m the eldest, the grandpa. I’m with my son, who is also the uncle. And his nephews are my grandsons. 

We are there because my daughter and my wife have left us while they go to lunch. I have my 4-week old grandson tucked against my chest, my son is shepherding my twin grandsons, and my son-in-law is the wisest of all: He has escaped to work for the day. 

So there we were: infant, eager to be fed, making his eagerness known; grandfather and his son trying to figure out how to get the baby’s bottle to work; remaining grandchildren watching a reality television show about a guy who clears out varmints from people’s property, a show of which daughter would no doubt disapprove. But grandfather and uncle cannot take another minute of the Disney Channel.

Into the chaos enters a kid from the neighborhood. He announced from the opened front door that he was selling water balloons, four to be had for a buck. My son was skeptical of the sales pitch, mostly because the bag of wares was levitating by a string at the kid’s side. 

“They’re guaranteed not to break,” the kid said, which I thought missed the entire point of a water balloon. But the baby was getting downright surly, so I gave my son a buck and the kid gave him four balloons. 

Five seconds after the front door closed, one of the grandkids popped a balloon. “I thought they were guaranteed,” I said. “We probably missed the fine print,” my son answered, “but now I’m really glad they were blanks.” 

In a recent column in Commonweal magazine, John Garvey writes about waking one morning “with a strange physical sense of myself as the product of eons.” He wrote of “the sense of being the son of a son of a son ... And you can go on way back, to a period where our ancestors slept in dens around fires in winter breathing bone dust.” 

I wasn’t in quite such a poetic mood. And rather than in that limbo between sleep and waking, I was in the middle of it: an infant grandson now demanding to be fed, bad television blaring, front doors ringing and balloons breaking. 

But I had that sense, a sense I get more often now, of the generations connected. Here I am, remembering my father and my grandfather that I knew, and touched and loved. And there is my son. And that tiny grandson who, God willing, will live to love a child and a grandchild. Seven generations, if I am counting right. All connected in the midst of an afternoon’s chaos. 

We used to call it the Communion of Saints, and it is also grandmothers and mothers, daughters and granddaughters. It is the mystical reality of an intimate connection — the Church Triumphant in heaven, the Church Penitent in purgatory and the Church Militant here on earth. 

It’s one of the things that make us Catholic — that understanding of the connectedness of the generations that were, the generations that are and the generations that will be. And the grace that binds us all together. 

The doorbell rang again and the kid was back. He said it was fair to charge just 25 cents for the water balloons since they didn’t hold water. I told my son to have him keep the change. And then I fed the Church Militant. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.