There is a space of worship in the back of our church called the crying room; a tiny room in the rear of the nave, partitioned off and divided by a huge pane of glass. It is a space where parents can bring their crying babies, loud toddlers, or any one who may not be ready or able to sit through an hour church service without being disruptive. In this room you can see and be seen. You can hear through the sound miked in over the speakers, but not be heard.
The separate entrance to the crying room is out in the hallway and when you are contained inside its walls, you are supposed to feel comfortable and included thanks to the fourth wall of glass looking into the rest of the congregation. To me, it feels like I'm in the Pope Mobile or I'm some expensive painting behind a wall of bullet proof glass. Yet I am acutely aware of the fact that I am neither as holy as his Imminence nor irreplaceable as the Mona Lisa.
Out of courtesy, I sit back there with my 17-year-old daughter whose severe cognitive limitations and autism do not allow her to blend seamlessly with a quiet group. She is a bit too loud and physically agitated so I sit back there with the young moms and their tiny children while my husband plants himself in the real world next to our three other young girls. I see the backs of their heads bent in prayer or whispering to one another when I know they're getting bored. I see life go on through a transparent dividing wall.
For me, the experience of being in the crying room is much different from the other moms who frequent this place, knowing that their time in here is limited and expected due to the developmental ages of their children. They know that this is a "way station" and that one day they will graduate to the outside world. For me, this room is the literal expression of the gigantic metaphor of my life as a mother to a significantly disabled child-participating in life from behind the glass. Sitting in the proverbial fishbowl.
It's stressful for me back in the crying room, though much less so than if I were sitting out there in the general congregation. I worry because there are families in there who I'm sure don't understand what is going on with my daughter. She's banging on the walls, incessantly kicking the chairs in front of her, jumping up and down in her seat, scratching the flesh off of my arm, squealing loudly then breaking into sudden tears, profusely drooling, and nine times out of ten will soil her diaper before the collection plate is passed.
Last Sunday back in this crying room, the priest spoke and the congregation chanted in unison, and....my non-verbal daughter spoke.
She called out "Mommy!" as clear as I've ever heard her say a word.
On this typical Sunday morning, suddenly moved by something (and I cannot fully connect the dots as to what), she calls out a resounding “Mommy!” without prompt or provocation, as clear as a church bell straight from the heavens. She followed it about half a minute later with a loud and equally clear "Daddy!"
On the other side of the glass partition the music soared, the people chanted in unison, the priest carried on. While inside the fishbowl, a frustrated mother and her misunderstood little girl were granted the small but sweet gift of a moment of grace.