Love, pain, and life

No one could call the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows a happy one. It’s the weeping Mary we honor today, the mother who saw her son being brutally tortured and executed.

Oddly, though, it’s a day that has a lot of meaning for me. Three years ago, on September 15 — talk about eerie timing — I suffered a pregnancy loss that rocked me back on my heels. That loss completely changed my relationship with Mary, ultimately for the good. At any rate, I made it through the pain of that experience, and two years ago I had the joy of giving birth to my son, Matthew.

As happy as I am to be a mom, though, there are times when I love him so much it hurts. In those moments, I realize that this love makes me deeply vulnerable. Being a parent means that there are, suddenly, so many new ways in which you can be hurt. The sorrowful Mary is a stark acknowledgement of that fact.

Years ago, I happened to see Queen Elizabeth give an address at a memorial service for the victims of 9/11. In her deliberate tones and polished accent, she made a statement that jolted me awake: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” I can’t think of any other line that is at once so devastating and yet so true.

Those words remind me of the play Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, in which the writer C.S. Lewis struggles to accept the fact that his wife Joy is dying of cancer. During a happy moment together, she talks frankly about her inevitable death, and Lewis tells her she is “spoiling” the moment. “It doesn’t spoil it,” she says. “It makes it precious.” A few lines later, she tells him, “What I’m trying to say is that pain, then, is part of this happiness, now. That’s the deal.”

We wouldn’t have this feast day if Mary didn’t love her son so much that it hurt. I think it’s fair to say that there’s some of Our Lady of Sorrows in each one of us. Like her, we feel pain because we first felt love. That’s the deal.

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