Mary, it’s not you. It’s me.
I promised that this month, your month, I would try to pray the rosary every night.
I know the rosary is powerful. I sense its power even if I don’t pray it. I remember sleeping with my beads under my pillow as a sick child. I still keep a rosary in my car, and my children have rosaries over their beds.
For the rosary is not only a tool for cultivating the interior garden in terms of specific doctrine. It is also a mysterious toy and a kind of nursery-rhyme, a singing-game, just as liturgy … is also play. And it has a full load of symbolism. It the word ‘load’ is reminiscent of electric cables and a supply of domestic current, so much the better. Anyone can find some of the switches even in a strange house in the dark, and turn on some light, even if no one can explain – least of all when he receives a shock – what electricity ‘is’.”
The Rose-Garden Game: The Symbolic Background of the European Prayer Beads, Eithne Wilkins 1969. p.20 (posted on the Facebook group The Way of the Rose, an atypical rosary resource that I’ve fallen in love with.)
Is the rosary only a game to me, a talisman, a charm? Instead of praying, I hold the beads in my hand and turn the question over in my mind: Why don’t I love you, Mary, as a “good” Catholic should?
I’ve told myself it was the spiritual abuse of my childhood among anti-Catholic meanies who told me that praying to you was a step on the slippery slope to worshipping the devil, an idolatry worthy of scriptural incantations and the laying on of hands. But as I sit here with my beads I decide that can’t be true. I never did anything the anti-Catholic meanies wanted. Their hatred and fear of the Catholic Church only encouraged my contrary nature.
So what’s really keeping me from you? It’s been my May prayer. Here’s what I’m thinking:
- I don’t want another mother in heaven. Really, Mary, this one just fell on my head like the Acme anvil, and it’s obviously the core of my problem. I’m sick and tired of mothers who are only apparitions in old photos and dreams. I want a momma with a house I can run to when my world falls apart, who will hold me through the pain. I want to take her out for lunch on Mother’s Day and give her a special edition gift set from Bath and Body Works that she’ll store unused under the bathroom sink.
- Women make me uncomfortable. But it’s not their fault. My mother died when I was young and I never learned how to shave my legs or armpits, or that you bring lasagna when a baby is born and a hostess gift when you visit someone, and that you give your kids’ teachers small, thoughtful gifts at Christmas. I’ve learned, but only through repeated, awkward moments of observation. I’m almost 40, but it seems I will always feel unsure of myself in the presence of other women. I avoid mommy groups and book clubs and playdates and even yoga class because of it. As if I’m sure that if I stick around too long they’ll notice that I’m not a real woman at all, but a feral animal who still doesn’t own a hairbrush. More than anything I’m afraid I’m a fraud. There’s something about the sweet, pious nature of most Marian devotion that makes it seem like it’s part of a feminine world I don’t understand or recognize.
- I’m more comfortable with male attention. This one is tricky and honestly, embarrassing, because I don’t want to sound like one of those assholes who humblebrags that she’s just one of the guys. I don’t want to be one of the guys. But why do I have so many guy friends? Maybe it’s because women tend to want to go deeper in their relationships and even in their small talk, and that’s threatening when you feel like you’ve got something to hide, something you don’t want them to see. For years I was guarding a lot of pain and it was much easier to have superficial, surface friendships with men. Maybe without women in my life to guide me, I’ve learned to survive, to “get my needs met” as my therapist says, by learning how to talk to men and to carefully manipulate situations to my advantage. When you grow up having to make a case for why you need tampons, you learn quickly that simply stating your needs isn’t enough. There must be drama and mise en scene before there are results. But Mary, you’re a woman, a mother, and with you, this shall not fly. You will give me side eyes. As you should.
Mary, I’m learning to be more honest about what I need and what I want. One of the gifts of this last year of my life has been the development of more open, deep, caring, supportive relationships with women. I’m learning to ask for help. Maybe this will help me to draw closer to you too.