Readers of my blog sometimes tell me I’m brave, but I’m actually not. I’m feisty in writing but a cowardly mouse in person. Sometimes, in crowded social settings, I go completely mute.
It’s embarrassing, which adds to my panic and then I’m even worse.
It’s especially bad at church and church-related social functions. Frequent readers know how much I love my tiny Byzantine Catholic church. But frequent readers also know I’ve been spiritually abused, and church is difficult. Even church I love is difficult, and it often hurts.
I usually attend liturgy but stay home from social engagements, but recently I went to a church party for my daughter’s catechism class. I told myself it’d be fun, but it wasn’t. I felt the panic start after only fifteen minutes.
I left Rosie with my husband, and went to have a cry by myself.
I walked around the neighborhood for awhile, ashamed of being such a coward, calling myself a catalog of insulting names because I’d made myself look sillier than ever. It flurried a little, but the snow didn’t stick. Snow in the dark is an excellent, hypnotic consolation for angry tears. The way it seems to materialize out of nowhere just a few inches from my face always distracts me; the way it muffles all ambient sound is comforting. It’s like a sensory blanket that’s also a cold washcloth for my eyes.
There was apparently an apparition or some kind of private devotion called Our Lady of the Snows, but I don’t know anything about it. I don’t really like apparition culture, because of my past. The name appeals to me, though. I like to think of Our Lady appearing out of nowhere with a big muffling blanket and a cold washcloth for my eyes. Not Our Lady of the Snows, but Our Lady as the snow.
I walked back to the church. There’s a large, decidedly non-Eastern statue of Our Lady in its own niche under the long porch roof that goes along the front of it, and behind the statue is a downhill drop and a long staircase that leads to the social hall. I could watch for the end of the party while hiding by the statue. I saw the hired Saint Nicholas impersonator leaving the building, going quickly toward the parking lot; I heard a little boy from Rosie’s catechism class calling out that he knew he wasn’t the real Saint Nicholas, he wasn’t going back to Heaven, he was only going to his car.
The door shut again, leaving me to the statue and the cold.
I don’t like that statue. I like Theotokos as she appears on icons, all rich colors and mysterious symbolism, but this is not an Eastern depiction of Our Lady. It’s Our Lady of Grace in a sky-blue veil, a larger version the same kind of statue that the rich people who are working to make the poor in my neighborhood homeless have outside their houses. The people I knew growing up, to whom Eastern Catholicism was an oddity, kept images like that. Practically everybody I knew had one. It reminds me too much of where I’ve been. Besides, this statue is on a pedestal just the right height that if I leaned in to venerate it, I’d end up kissing the black snake under her feet.
Theotokos was there, arms open in that awkward way, on top of the snake at eye-level. I don’t know why that particular stilted pose irritated me so much. Icons are full of stilted poses, but they seem so much more lively and truthful to me than Our Lady in a powder-blue veil, arms out like a jet plane.
The air was icy and still all around.
“Do something,” I prayed, hoping she’d fix me and make me stop crying, but she didn’t.
“What do you expect me to do?” I asked her.
She was silent, arms open, standing on that snake, her bare pink feet just the right level to step on my head.
“I should just leave and never come back,” I said.
So did I, somehow.
I cried again.
When Rose was five days old, she had colic, and there was nothing I could do. The simethecone drops didn’t work. Massage didn’t work. Baths didn’t work for more than a short time. All I could do was hold her and rock. I rocked from midnight til five in the morning, night after night, whispering “here’s Mommy! Here’s Mommy!” over and over until we both dropped off from exhaustion. When she was six months old, she got her finger caught in a door. She was inconsolable. I couldn’t do anything to make the bruise go away. I couldn’t even hold her still enough to take an ice pack for the swelling. All I could do was sit with her and hold her, whispering “Here’s Mommy! Here’s Mommy.”
Rosie’s been a very healthy child, for the most part, but a few weeks before the party she got into some wheat by mistake. She has a sensitivity to wheat. It gives her terrible constipation and stomachaches every time she has so much as a bite, and this time was no exception. She sat up in bed sobbing at three o’clock in the morning, and there was nothing I could do. I took her in bed with me and held her, I rubbed her back, I talked to distract her. And then I was back to where I was six and a half years ago– albeit on a different bed in a different part of Steubenville, holding a much taller and lankier child. “It’s all right. It will be over soon. I’m here. Mommy’s here. Here’s Mommy! Here’s Mommy. Here’s Mommy.”
I have come to believe that that is the most important job of a mother: being present when there’s nothing you can do. There’s plenty you have to do as a mother, as well, but I think our mettle is most especially tested when there’s nothing at all we can do. We just have to sit there, watching our beloved children cry, and be present. Here’s Mommy.
Our Lady is the best mother there could ever be, which means she’s the best at being present. She doesn’t usually intervene with a miracle, and I’ve already admitted that can’t say why this is true. Most of the time she’s just there, present to her awkward and socially hopeless daughter. A plaster statue to hide behind. An awkward distraction in the dark. A muffling sensory blanket of white and a cold washcloth for my eyes. These are some of the things Our Lady is.
She remained with me until I had to go back in.
Not Our Lady of the Snows, but Our Lady as the snow.
(image via Pixabay)