A sudden solemnity snuck up on me this evening. I was reading, as I like to do, over in the Courtyard of the Fountain in front of the Chapel of Joan of Arc as the sun set. I had been puzzled earlier by the pealing of a bell over at the Gesu Church, one bell ringing rather rapidly. Had it been slower, I would have assumed that it was for a funeral, recalling the slow tones of a deep bell that would ring from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame when a Holy Cross priest or brother's funeral service had concluded. I saw a couple of priests in vestments walking toward the Gesu while the bell rang, and just thought to myself that, were this some thousand years ago, the rapid tolling of the bell would have made me assume that the Vikings were attacking.
A little later, I looked up from my book to see a procession of people, many wearing deep purple or light blue, carrying balloons of those colours and being lead over to Joan of Arc by those priests. They gathered in front of the Chapel around a young couple who stood out by bearing balloons of bright red, and I thought that perhaps I was witnessing some part of a wedding or anniversary celebration. One of the stragglers came up to the crowd past me and I asked what was going on, and I found out that this was the end of a funeral celebration for a baby that had died. Some words were spoken that I could not hear, and then the balloons were all released, drifting up into the sunset clouds northwest of campus, and fading away into an open swirl of cloud like an oculus, except for one drooping balloon that caught a lower current and went off northeast on its own. Everyone watched them silently until they faded away: as liturgy goes, it was as effective as anything I've ever seen. I can't imagine that kind of pain: to let go of all those dreams and hopes for a child, to mourn not just the child lost but also all the future and all in life that the child never had a chance to experience.
Watching that made me all the happier, in the end, to hear of the "problem" that my sister told me about today: that Sophie learned how to climb out of her crib on Sunday night. Sophie has even been learning how to be disingenuous about the whole thing: coming out of her room and finding Leslie, and exclaiming, "I found you!" as though all that other business about being put in her crib had simply been a misunderstanding, best forgotten. While this new skill has made putting her down at night an even longer trial than before, it's really another rite of passage for which we can be thankful.