“Cannonball moments.” They can be slow. Sometimes you can even see them coming well before impact. When they collide with your arm, your leg, or your heart, they can be quick and instantly devastating. They can rock your world physically, emotionally, and mentally like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. They can make you feel like in that moment, all is lost like a building reduced to rubble.
Still, others can be so quiet that you don’t even realize they hit at all until years later. They happen so quickly that you don’t even feel the impact. At least not at that moment.
Whether they are slow, quick, or quiet, however, these “cannonballs” are often the moments that matter most to the story of your life.
On May 20, 2021, the Society of Jesus started the Ignatian Year. They chose May 20 because it was the 500th anniversary of the day St. Ignatius was struck with a cannonball — the quick and devastating kind. He showed up to a battle arrogant, prideful, and certain that even though he and his men were severely outnumbered against the French, he would come out victorious in the end. Instead, his leg was hit by an actual cannonball, the ramifications of which I doubt he saw coming. The Society of Jesus, the order of men founded by St. Ignatius, marks this moment as the beginning of his conversion. After his leg was hit, he was carried off the field and spent the next several months in Loyola castle recuperating. During this time, he began to “see all things new in Christ” (the theme of the Ignatian Year).
All of us have these “cannonball moments,” whether we have fully examined their impact yet or not. They are often forks in the road, turning points in life. They take us off one path and put us on another, whether we want to move or not. In my short 40 years, I have had many “cannonball moments” that have fallen in all of the various categories described above. To date, however, the most impactful one finally came to rest as I sat in a vinyl-covered chair behind a thin white curtain a little over three years ago.
This was the day that I found out my son had moderate-to-severe hearing loss. I consider the moment that I found out about the loss a “cannonball moment” because that moment changed something inside of me. It wasn’t instantaneous. Both the damage before and the change after were gradual.
Before the diagnosis, I could not adequately communicate with my son. It left us with many moments of tears — both his and mine. Before, I couldn’t provide him with any answers as to why everything was so hard. Before, I couldn’t tell him the full truth about who he was and what he was capable of becoming.
Afterward, I had answers. I didn’t have all of them. A couple years later, we would discover that he had a few other learning differences in the classroom that needed time and attention. But I had a path forward. Once I learned of his hearing loss, I started learning about the deaf community as well as the resources available to help him learn, grow, and fully appreciate who he is.
Truth be told, I didn’t see this one coming. I didn’t know how hard the first few years of parenting would be, and I didn’t know how beautiful my life would become because of both the before and the after. That’s what “cannonball moments” are after all — pain and beauty all rolled into one. They are the moments that matter — the ones that bring us closest to the person God created us to be.
During this Ignatian year that runs through July 2022, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own cannonball moments — the slow, the quick, and the quiet. How have they changed you? How have they led you closer to God and helped make you who you are today?