I was going for a walk, instead of going to church.
I still can’t walk into a Catholic Church without a panic attack.
I miss the Eucharist. I wonder if He misses me. I don’t miss the agony, the smells and bells and terrible memories, the coming home in a panic, the going to bed Sunday afternoon and feeling unsafe into Tuesday.
I want this to end, but I don’t see a way out.
I was going to try to sneak into the back of a Mass this week, but I found I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Not for Mothers’ Day weekend, with the horrible sermons and fuss that always brings. Not when there might be something scary like a May Crowning or part of the Rosary to make me shudder. I started shuddering at the thought. The Virgin Mary is one of my worst triggers. My life has been more chaotic than usual lately, for reasons I’ll talk about soon. I am even more pathetic than usual. I tried praying to Mary one evening just to see what would happen, and the next morning was more chaotic still. This doesn’t mean anything in itself. But it feels like a slap in the face. Another confirmation that I’m not her daughter and she just wants me hurt.
So I went for a walk.
It’s glorious to walk in LaBelle this time of year. My own lilac tree is spent, but other people’s lilacs were in full bloom. The irises are out. The trees are green and shady. Azaleas are dropping blossoms that look like fanciful silk flowers and not real ones. I can see the round buds of peonies here and there. Everything is warm and living and smells beautiful.
Every time I saw a statue of Our Lady of Grace, standing there with her arms out like a penguin, I’d cringe, as I always do. Sometimes I’d walk on the other side of the street. Don’t hurt me, Mother of God. Don’t touch me. Stop.
I once heard a priest jokingly speculate about what it would feel like to get hit with one of the rays of light emanating from Our Lady of Grace’s hands. I often think it would feel like getting impaled.
Holly the Witch, my pagan friend who loves the Virgin Mary more than any Catholic I know, once said I’d been robbed of seeing the Virgin Mary as strong. I see the ladylike and virginal side of her, but I don’t see the power and change. Holly says birth is chaotic and painful and full of upheaval, and maybe that’s why something chaotic seemed to happen when I prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. But maybe my life is just chaotic, full stop.
The birds sang in the trees. There are so many beautiful birds in LaBelle this year. I was afraid they’d be scared away by the hawks and the vultures, but they’re here in record numbers, and they are loud. They called back and forth, hidden in all the new greenery. A rainbow of sound to my ears, to match the rainbow of flowers all around.
I went down the alley to examine a majestic bush with blossoms like snowballs. I’d never seen one like it before. If my grandfather had been alive and walking with me, he’d have known exactly what kind of bush it was, just as he would be telling me what all the different birds were. He knew every kind of plant by sight and every kind of bird by sound. I’ve never met a man who knew so much.
I looked up at the bush, imagining my grandfather standing behind me. I could hear his voice saying “that’s a candytuft,” but I don’t think it was a candytuft. I imagined him saying “that’s a hydrangea,” though I’m sure it wasn’t.
I nearly backed into a woman taking a photograph of her garage.
She smiled when she saw me. “This is my Mothers’ Day gift!”
I looked at the garage too.
It was a two door garage of yellow brick. In the space between the garage doors, there was a niche with a colorful statue of the Virgin Mary in it.
“Our electrical box used to be here,” she explained, bubbling with excitement. “We’ve wanted to fill it in, but we didn’t have the right color brick. It was empty for years. My children put this shrine in it for me– there’s a little light and everything!”
“It’s beautiful,” I said honestly. “It is. You should grow flowers black here.”
“I will. I will!”
I gazed at the statue, which gazed back at me– not Our Lady of Grace with her hands out to impale someone but another Virgin Mary, with her arms around a plump Baby Jesus.
She’d followed me down the alley on Mothers’ Day.
I continued on my walk. The birds, the lilacs, the gardens– everything was beautiful and warm. It even felt safe, a feeling I don’t have very often.
“Mother of God…” I whispered. “I’m sorry. If you really love me… and only if you really love me… I give you permission to finish whatever it is you’re starting. To bring me through the chaos to the other side.”
No sound but the birds.
No smell but the lilacs.
No light at the end of the tunnel, just flowers all around.
I finished my walk and went home.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.