There are times when my only refuge as a Catholic is to pray The Most Holy Rosary. References are made to “the times that try men’s souls,” but for many mothers like me, there is no one who can comfort us when we’re stricken as Our Blessed Mother.
When it comes to a gut-wrenching calamity, I have taken that class in the sense that there is only one place to go: “I fly to [Her] side, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.”
I was angry, fearful, crying out into the night.
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Indeed, who knows better than Our Blessed Mother the trials and tribulations of earthbound mothers concerning our children of any age who suffer terror, persecution, loneliness, rage, pain, and despair?
In this, I am reminded of a phone call from my sister on a blistering hot August night while my son and I were vacationing on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. She had relocated the week before with her husband and two daughters to an old farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The problem was not the move.
My sister explained that her four-year-old daughter in day care was struck in the face by an aide in her late teens. The aide was arrested and charged with assault, as well as other offenses related to child abuse — and incarcerated. My niece suffered a deep cut on her forehead requiring stitches. For me, the trauma to both my sister and her youngest was too fresh for them to be left alone in the country.
I told her that as soon as I dropped off my son with a friend, it would take a two-hour drive from South Jersey to her door.
I asked, “Can you hold on for two hours?”
She broke down sobbing. “The little one is fine for now. As for me, I don’t know.”
“Anyone I can call that’s close by?” But I knew there was no one. Her husband was away on business overseas and they had just moved into the neighborhood. We agreed, however, that she would call the hotline numbers given to her by the EMS team who treated my niece — if only to help her make it through those two hours until I arrived.
This was not a case of here-comes-the-older-sister to save the day. The problem was not only the event itself, but rather that my sister is a recovering alcoholic, a member of AA, and sober for the last 15 years. Anyone with experience in addiction knows the difficulty of maintaining sobriety, let alone amid a gut-wrenching experience.
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She promised to phone her former AA sponsor, with whom she was still in contact, and we said our goodbyes. After hanging up, I can’t recall much of anything except throwing a few things in an overnight bag, dropping off my son, and heading out. I was almost at the causeway headed for the mainland when I realized that I had forgotten my rosary.
Pulling a U-turn, I returned home, grabbed my rosary off the night table, and jumped back into my car. I wrapped it around my wrist and began praying.
I recalled being asked years before by an insurance adjuster: If my house was on fire and I could only save one item, what would it be? I was holding it.
For the first time in my life, however, I could not focus on my prayers at all. I was angry, fearful, crying out into the night: “Please help them! My sister cannot handle this — and neither can I!”
Suddenly, within the span of a few deep breaths and a shift from fourth to fifth gear, the Our Fathers and Hail Marys began to flow effortlessly. But it was not until the fourth decade of the Joyful Mysteries that a glint of insight occurred.
Nothing mattered except those precious lavender crystal beads clutched in the palm of my hand.
The Mystery involves The Presentation of The Child Jesus in the Temple, wherein St. Simeon’s prophecy decries to Mary that a sword shall pierce Her heart. At that moment, my fear of my sister’s fear started to fade as I fingered each bead. Yes, I thought, we mothers live in “the world,” as do our precious children. We attempt to be “in the world but not of it,” yet the truth is life itself comes with a price — one that can pierce our hearts with cruelties inflicted upon our most beloved and helpless children.
At this point, I firmly believed Our Lady was “with us” and all would be well. For Mary most bitterly suffered and endured a world of unspeakable horrors far greater than anything we sisters and our children experienced as part of our tucked-away little lives. After all, we had no great mantle or destiny to fulfill for humanity’s past, present and future. Our path as Christians was to fight the good fight, run the race, finish the course, keep the faith. Could we not do this?
The answer came up fast as I pulled into my sister’s driveway, hopped out and walked up the flagstones to her lighted front porch.
At that moment, nothing mattered except those precious lavender crystal beads clutched in the palm of my hand that radiated such warmth, enfolding both my sister and me — as we hugged each other tight.
She was clear-eyed and strong.
I lifted my eyes to The Queen of Heaven, and whispered, “Thank you.”
The author, a retired attorney, is a published poet, writer, and columnist based in Arizona.