Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot
When I was a junior in college, I studied in Paris for a semester. 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. 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. After graduating from college, I found a position teaching English in a 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. 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. There were the differences in language, culture, and social norms to navigate. 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 permanent residence in the other hemisphere. And my two stays in Paris happened before the advent of email and cellphones made the world shrink in size. There were many, many 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. But she hid her fears well, because she knew how desperately I wanted to go. She knew how much I’d been aching to see the world, and 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. 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. She let Jesus go off and preach and teach and fufill his own potential, doing what he was born to do. 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. 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. She must have known that he was getting on the wrong side of very powerful people who could cause very powerful trouble. But she also knew that this was his calling, that it was what he was born to do. She couldn’t keep him from it. 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. It’s what I’ll likely find myself doing someday, if my boys have inherited even an iota of my wanderlust. 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. 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.