Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fatima Awaits

Long before I discovered Mary in Epheseus, I convinced my mother to go to Fatima, Portugal. Not that I was a fan of the shrine; rosaries and processions seemed a bit nonsensical to me. In fact, I despise the word "religious" because it implies dogma. Nonetheless, Fatima was my mother's dream. For her 60th birthday, she yearned to sojourn to this sacred place of apparition and healing energy, and my mother is a woman for whom few dreams have come true. So I booked airline tickets to Lisbon, Portugal followed by a short excursion to Barcelona, shortly before her 59th birthday. I don't believe in waiting. Birthdays, timelines, ocassions, are all rather arbitrary. So we wait. In the meantime, people die, revolutions arise, natural disasters occur, the physical world or our own physiological systems could deteriorate while we anticipate the "right" time. I say, Carpe Diem. The right time is now.

Perhaps I should share another anecdote. My godmother, my namesake, my beautiful Aunt Catherine died of Stage IV cancer at the age of 44. She was a Georgetown graduate, a dentist, and such a wonderfully tempered woman, so at the end, she was comforting her neurotic, healthy sister Agatha undergoing a bad case of pre-marital jitters. Aunt Catherine had made only one request of me in twenty-six years, to spend a weekend with her at the beach. In my heart, I heard her plea. I even envisioned myself beside her. But no, I was a consultant, and I was on a deadline. Also, Agatha's wedding was the following weekend and I had already slated vacation days for that event. So I told my godmother I would see her at the wedding. Unfortunately, she never made it to the wedding. The few designated days she asked me to spend with her were the last days of her young and vibrant life.

It was a dangerous mistake, and a bitter regret, one for which I am still trying to forgive myself. The only amends I can make is to love those who are currently living. There was a time when I longed for that idyllic romantic love, exquisite perfections we read about in fairytales and immortal, unforgettable men like A Tale of Two Cities' Sydney Carton or Pride & Prejudice's Mr. Darcy. I was waiting. I was stagnant. I was enamored of an ideal, a fictionalized ideal at that. Then I realized that the great love in our lives may already exist right before our eyes, even though we may not recognize it. Love may not necessarily be what society defines it, as the right partner. It might be a parent, a child, a friend, a sibling, a pet. Love is any relationship that challenges us to think beyond ourselves, to care for another creature, to grow in our capacity to give. Because our sacred calling as human beings is not gratify ourselves, but to expand in our ability to love, each day, each month, each year. I think about who it is, whose smile uplifts my heart and whose happiness is more important to me than my own.

I have found my true love, in this day, in this moment. It doesn't mean that I may not have others, but in this moment, that person is my soulmate. And no, it does not look conventional at all.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

There is Something About Mary

I never quite got Mary. Catholics are taught to have a reverence for the Virgin Mary, the holy woman whose obedience rendered an extraordinary destiny. Catholics also believe in apparitions, when she had appeared to simple peasants or children, asking them to pray. She was thought to be the symbol of peace. At my mother's behest, I dragged myself to Lourdes and then Fatima. Beautiful shrines were erected in the midst of prosaic villages. I often found my spirituality was often in the surrounding woods or barren paths on the other side of town, bare spaces where it was easier to listen to the silence. So I trudged along, going to processions out of habit, and avoiding rosaries whenever I could. I thought the true ordeal she endured was watching her innocent child die, and Mary was not alone in that in our current crime-infested world, so I thought, what's the big deal?

A few miles outside of Epheseus, Turkey, was the house where the Virgin Mary lived before she died. I was skeptical, another Marian shrine. However, I found a small, dilapidated wooden house with few furnishings and long lines. Outside the site were plaques engraved in Arabic, lines from the Koran heralding the mother of Jesus and juxtaposed were biblical verses. Then I walked inside that cramped hovel, and saw a cramped room. Crowds of Catholics, and Muslims (indicated by their colorful head scarves) stood side by side praying, kneeling, and meditating. Each was respectful of the other's space and need for proximity to Mary, the things she touched. Many were so moved by their presence so near to Mary, that they began to cry. Inaudibly, tears rolled along a myriad of cheeks. Some opened up their prayerbooks; Bible and Koran were indistinguishable while the soft chanting seemed a universal murmur.

I too, began to cry. Nowhere else in the world can Christians and Muslims stand side by side in worship of the same. Even the greatest diplomatic efforts have failed to bring these two peoples together. Here they were, mostly women, I should add, close enough to touch one another. They spoke the same language. It was motherhood; it was unconditional love; it was complete surrender and utter faith. They all bowed to the same holy woman with the same name. Interesting how God seems somehow divisive by comparison: Yahweh, Jesus, Allah.

There's something about Mary.