10 November, 2007

An update on my infidel son

A while back, I reported rather morosely on my son's announcement that he had decided to be an atheist. I tied this in with occasional entries at Bede's Journal on the influence of DNA and the lack of influence of parents. I felt rather discouraged at the time, and in the smog clouding my mind I might have misrepresented Dr. Hannam's point of view meant, and if so I apologize. He saw what I wrote and followed up quite well, I thought. Subsequent comments were more or less what I had hoped to see as a consequence of that entry: informative discussion of the question.

In any case, my son represented his school at a regional math competition last week. We had to drive down to St. Stanislaus College in Bay St. Louis. Bay St. Louis, like anyplace else on Mississippi's coast, still looks ravaged from Hurricane Katrina, but while he was participating in the event, I was able to eat a nice, quiet lunch on the beach on the edge of the bay, near poles that once were piers and in the shadow of a walkway from the college to the bay, of which only the stone portion over the highway remains.

Unfortunately, the church held no mass. No one had provided any information, so I walked around aimlessly before grading some student projects. I discovered a shrine to "Our Lady of the Woods", or perhaps it's "Our Lady of the Gulf" (my memory is that bad). The shrine holds a plaster of paris statue of the Holy Virgin holding the infant Jesus in her arms. Both are painted in bright, cheery colors. Crowns sit on both heads, and Jesus' arms stretch out to the viewer. A plaque at the shrine informs the reader that one of the earliest pastors of the parish prayed during a storm at sea for help, promising to erect a shrine if they pulled in to shore. The ship somehow survived the storm and drifted into port, and the missionary priest fulfilled his promise. The statue has somehow managed to survive every natural disaster that has smashed the area, despite not having much in the way of protection.

When all was said and done, I moseyed on over to one of SSC's many gyms (how many do they have, anyway? I lost count) for the awards ceremony. The bleachers were already packed when I arrived, so I found a seat in an out-of-the-way spot.

The competition awards first-, second-, and third-place trophies in the categories of English, Science, Math, and Social Studies to each of grades 5, 6, 7, and 8. It seemed like most, if not all, of the schools participating were private schools. The ceremony was efficient, but not perfunctory. My son won second place in 6th grade math! For a day or so he got to be a bit of a hero in the family.

So, okay, I'm proud of him for that. But I'm prouder of something else. While we returned hom he told me that he remembered to say grace at lunch. He also said that it seemed like he was the only one who had thought to say grace at lunch.

I found this remarkable, for several reasons. First, he doesn't seem to say grace even at home unless we remind him. We don't always, because I tend to say grace privately, as a matter of habit, and my wife's family doesn't have this tradition. A great deal of my spiritual life consists in private habits and reflections. This can be good sometimes, but bad when you need to set an example for the children. The one year-old looks at me as if I'm crazy whenever I guide her hand in the sign of the cross before a meal. Maybe she's right, considering that I'm training her for the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but that's another story.

Second, my son thought to say grace even when no one else seemed to be saying it. This impresses me as a matter of his being thoughtful, or perhaps having a good habit on this after all. For all we know, everyone else was saying grace as a private habit, the way I do. Maybe people were looking at him and wondering why he wasn't saying it! I confess no small surprise that a Catholic college-preparatory school would sponsor an academic competition, then offer neither Mass nor grace at meal for the participants—but, that isn't my affair. My affair is that my son bucked the culture somewhat for something important.

Third—wait a second. Wasn't this kid saying only a week or two before that he wanted to be an atheist, because it made life easier?!?

Eleven year olds: you gotta love 'em, otherwise you'd strangle them in their sleep. Sometimes, you might not wait even that long.

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