Mary on Monday: When normal life is kicked out from underneath you

Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Luc Olivier Merson

Last year, our house had major plumbing problems.  This is what happens when you have a postwar home with terra cotta pipes: the ground settles, the tree roots grow and find little cracks in the sewer lateral, and next thing you know there is water backing up into the garage  every time you flush the toilet.  My intrepid husband became an expert in snaking, but it soon became clear that we’d have to do some major plumbing work, to the tune of more money than I’d like to remember.    But until that work was done, there were evenings when we couldn’t flush, couldn’t run water down the kitchen sink, and had to shower at the neighbors’.  It showed me two things: 1) I should never take indoor plumbing for granted; and 2) I don’t deal well with disruptions to the normal routine.  (Oh, and it showed me that we have fantastic neighbors.)

And as disruptions go, that was relatively minor.  There are so many people in the world who have to face much more serious, long-lasting, painful upheavals.  A natural disaster, the loss of a home to foreclosure,  the death of a family member, a grim medical diagnosis  — well, these are pretty major changes.   Any one of these events can kick normal life right out from underneath you.  Sometimes, it can take a long while before you find your footing again.

Looking at most images of Mary, it’s so easy to forget that she knows all about this.  She looks so peaceful and serene, untouched by worry or conflict or change.  But the fact is that shortly after she became a mother, her little family had to leave the country that they knew and flee to a foreign place.  They were refugees in a land where everything was different.  The normal comforts of home — the family and friends you love, the language and culture you know — they lost it all for a time.  It must have been profoundly disorienting.

That’s why I really like the painting above, even though it is probably wildly historically inaccurate.  I like how Joseph is camped out on the ground in his cloak, and Mary and Jesus are huddled up against the vast stoniness of this sphinx.   Somehow it captures that sense of isolation and uncertainty that Mary must have felt as she took her newborn son into a place that was far from everything familiar.   And it reminds me that as much as I love the serene images of Mary, I can’t forget that she knows what it is like to have to be resilient in the face of utterly disorienting change.   That very young mother learned how to become one tough cookie, for herself and for her family.  And I love her for it.

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