Nine Boys and Eight Girls
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.
‒Ephesians 6, 1
I believed in God as a child who was raised Catholic, and our mother spoke about Him as though He were living among us. We always kept a portrait of the Last Supper on our dining room wall, and there was a statue of the Blessed Mother on our living room mantel, before which Mom knelt and prayed. Each of our bedrooms had a Crucifix above the door, we all made the sign of the cross whenever we heard an ambulance or fire truck siren passing our house. Whenever we heard bad news, Mom would bless herself and say a prayer.
Praying and talking to God were ingrained in us through Mom’s endless stories of inspired wisdom on love and forgiveness. And although my father was also raised Catholic, he was not immersed in religious dogma, which was the opposite of how Mom practiced her faith. Dad taught us that our behavior should fit with the ways of God, and never mind all that religion! Mom didn’t oppose Dad’s commonsense approach, choosing instead to embody her faith with tolerance when it came to religion. She believed Dad did his best by living his faith and striving to teach us to use our own good sense.
My seven sisters and nine brothers were probably as loving to one another as most siblings. I was in the middle, and some of my older siblings were already married, away at school, or in the military. This meant we didn't all live together in the same household for very long, and as a result, I have more vivid memories of life with the younger children than with the older ones. We always had a baby in the house, and as a teenager, I was very attached to my baby sister, Shirley. I gave her a lot of attention because, unlike the rest of us girls, she didn’t have a sister close to her age. I was ten years old when she was born, and everyone was so excited because we finally had another baby girl, after five boys in a row! The boys were still ahead by one, but Mom reminded us about the baby girl who’d been stillborn, and we all were well aware of her.
I also was very close with an older sister, June, who was my opposite in many ways. She had a lot of common sense and was very popular, and had a way of getting through life that suited her perfectly and brought a lot of joy to everyone around her. Because of this, people looked up to her. Unlike June, I loved to read and wanted to travel and educate myself, thinking education was the most important way to get anywhere in life. I had good grades in school, but not as much common sense as my sister, and this caused friction between us. It turned out to be a huge difference as our lives unfolded, and in time, this strained relationship‒that seemed to follow me everywhere‒would teach me some of my greatest lessons in life.
Spirit was leading both of us, even though we weren’t aware of it. But through years of struggles and hardships, we eventually found the true meaning in our lives and the ways in which we needed to grow. In hindsight, these differences were not a coincidence, and I believe there were angels giving us every opportunity to learn and grow in areas in which we were not sufficiently developed, such as love and compassion. Early on, what we needed was to see each other as equals, instead of focusing on our differences. But I now can see those differences as a blessing in disguise; the discomfort we felt with each other was a reminder to stay aligned with each other, whenever our thoughts and feelings wavered.
Growing up in such a large family, what was considered normal for us was quite different from what most other families experienced. And talk about sibling rivalry! With so many of us living in the same space, the differences and challenges were multiplied, and so was everything else, especially the hurt feelings, the injuries, and the grievances that most families hold on to. Only today, in finding love and forgiveness, can we change our relationship to the past. And in so doing, we can look back with love and see those angels who walked among us and guided our way, even when we weren’t looking!
To some of my siblings these ideas ring true; but others have been overcome by memories of lack, and blame the fact that we came from too large of a family, one where they didn’t get enough attention, or get whatever it was that they wanted. I believe that what we experienced was similar to what many others went through, whether in smaller families, or in ones with more money or less, whether they had more education or less, or felt loved or didn’t. Anyone can feel that they are lacking in some way, regardless of the gifts we actually have been given.Thoughts of lack can darken and even obscure fundamental love and truth. And, as in my case, sometimes these thoughts may surface after a loss, or through suffering and hardship.
“Let the Children Play”
Mom did most of the housework and the cooking in our home.We helped out, but we never had the responsibilities that most of our friends had in keeping up with the daily chores, housework, or cooking. And for the younger ones, Mom believed, let them be children, as she would say to my dad, when he noticed she was doing more than her share of these tasks. “They have the rest of their lives to be responsible; for school, work, parenting, providing or preparing meals, and keeping their own houses in order when they have their own families.” She often explained to him, “What am I doing here, then, if not taking care of my own children? This is what gives me the greatest joy!” She considered it her role to give of herself and to do for others, and spoke about it as a privilege. To her, not being able to do so would be sad.
Mom taught us many things in addition to being kind and having good manners, and she emphasized that none of us were better than any other of us, regardless of how we saw it; if we acted any other way, she put us in our place. This was especially true outside our family; we were not permitted to compare ourselves to anyone else. Naturally, this meant we never heard our Mom say an unkind word about anyone, even in the face of the indifference of others. She explained, “You don’t always know what causes someone to act in an unloving way.” And this was one of her ways to teach us never to judge. “That’s left to God, and isn’t our place,” she’d say.
Our parents were extremely strict about this and we never got away with an unkind remark, not even in jest. Mom was smart enough to compliment us in private, so as not to offend one of the others or make anyone feel less worthy or lower in her eyes. It was a huge lesson that has served us well, reminding us we are all equal, that we must be considerate and careful with our words to avoid hurting anyone.
Excerpt from Imprinted Wisdom ~ Catherine Nagle
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Westwind Foster Family Agency, Christian Children's Fund, Compassion International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Invisible Children, Save the Children