Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot
When I was a junior in college, I studied in Paris for a semester. Â As I boarded that plane at San Francisco International Airport, hauling my comically overstuffed Samsonite, I was nervous and excited and totally ready to immerse myself in a foreign culture. Â And I had a fabulous time … so fabulous, in fact, that I resolved to go back and live there again someday.
About a year later, I did. Â After graduating from college, I found a position teaching English in a Â Parisian suburb, used my junior year connections to find a reasonable studio apartment, and embarked for nine more dirt-poor but unforgettable months in the City of Lights.
It’s only now, years later, that I fully understand what my mom had to go through while I was gone.
She hid her worry pretty well, all considered. Â But looking back now, I can understand the anxiety that must have been there, especially that first trip. After all, I was going off to a foreign country I’d never seen before, living in a big city with a host family none of us had ever met. Â There were the differences in language, culture, and social norms to navigate. Â There was the very real chance that I might meet some dreamy European male who would sweep me off my feet and inspire me to take up Â permanent residence in the other hemisphere. Â And my two stays in Paris happened before the advent of email and cellphones made the world shrink in size. Â There were many, many Â times that I was out with friends on the town, or on a train to Germany or Italy, and there was absolutely no way for my parents to contact me unless I called them first.
I’m sure all of this was going through my mom’s mind before I ever boarded that Northwestern plane on that January evening. Â But she hid her fears well, because she knew how desperately I wanted to go. Â She knew how much I’d been aching to see the world, and Â that I’d never be entirely at peace until I let the waters of a totally different culture close over my head for a while. Â That’s what moms do: we let our kids go chase their dreams, even though it costs us a heckuva lot to see them leave.
And Mary did this too. Â She let Jesus go off and preach and teach and fufill his own potential, doing what he was born to do. Â I believe that Mary was a woman of great faith, but let’s not forget that she was also a mom, and I suspect that she worried pretty ferociously about her baby. Â After all, he wasn’t off talking about puppy dogs and rainbows and safe, nonthreatening things; he was challenging the system, pointing out hypocrisy and pettiness, which is an excellent way to make people want to shut you up for good. Â She must have known that he was getting on the wrong side of very powerful people who could cause very powerful trouble. Â But she also knew that this was his calling, that it was what he was born to do. Â She couldn’t keep him from it. Â All she could do was love him, hope for the best, and pray like mad that he’d be safe.
That’s what my mom did, twice. Â It’s what I’ll likely find myself doing someday, if my boys have inherited even an iota of my wanderlust. Â And as we let our kids go off and pursue the lives they are dying to live, we can rest assured that we are in good company. Â In this — as in so many things — Mary was there before us, showing us how it’s done and loving us as we do it.