A Cave for Mary

Mary in a grotto! The cave walls are like walls in a zoo — they look real and touchable.  But get a little closer and they look a bit fake. Also, it’s just weird to see cave walls in a church, even if they are recreating Lourdes, France in Upper Manhattan.

I was on my lunch hour, hungry for a moment of peace. Family life and work life are way hectic at the end of September. And Michael DeBorja had Facebook messaged me the suggestion to visit this church! (Thanks Michael)

The odor of incense totally hit me when I walked into the sanctuary. There is also the wow effect of a cave wall in church and the vast, wide space and the echo-ey domed ceiling. This church totally reeked. I was thrown back to my first grammar school — St. Joan of Arc in Skokie, Illinois. It’s kindergarten on the Holy Day and the crowning of the May. I recalled wanting desperately to crown Mary and not being chosen. Hence, I’ve spent my life pursuing and getting snagged by the Good Girl syndrome.

Mary doesn’t help — with her unattainable tranquility and alabaster skin (what product could give me that smooth sheen?). Mary is also always alone. Ah, and in this church, there were five older women,  a diverse group too, all sitting alone. One wore a white veil on her head.

Their aloneness struck me as sad. But maybe, like me, these women, are surrounded everyday by people and they need this moment of solitude. Maybe it is an active aloneness. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh said about solitude by the sea, “The loneliness you get by the sea is personal and alive. It doesn’t subdue you and make you feel abject. It’s stimulating loneliness.”

For some reason, I felt compelled to bless myself with holy water as I left. In churches I’ve visited before, I never felt the need. But yesterday, I did. It was a hot day in the city and cool water on my forehead would feel good.

I looked for the water founts and found them. I walked to the Morningside entrance to dip my fingers in. I was overcome with gratitude for my life. I walked down two blocks thinking of nothing but gratitude for everything and everyone in my life. And I named you all. It was a chant, “Thank you God for …..”

Today, when I looked up the church online to be sure I got the name right I discovered on Wikipedia the water is sent from Lourdes, France by special arrangement. I am glad. I am an unabashed Francophile and love all things French, especially the language. Around Mary’s halo are words, that begin, “Je suis….” I couldn’t read the rest. But I’ll take, “Je suis!”

If you love Mary — and who doesn’t? — this is the church for you! The Church of Notre Dame at 114th and Morningside.

The First Day of 6th

I dropped off the girls at Middle School at 8 am. Help, I have 3 children in Middle School! Yes, these are the years commonly known as the greatest years of a person’s life! My most vivid memory of Middle School was having to wear my brother’s hand-me-down red, white and blue Converse. So embarrassing. Every single day, total embarrassment.

I also remember making a movie, “Looking Back,” about the Depression with my homeroom. And, yes, I must mention Mr. Dennison’s counseling group where we rapped after school about our issues from a Transactional Analysis point of view. (Yes, I’ve always loved self-improvement.)

But this post wasn’t going to be about me. I was talking fondly about my girls going to Middle School. So yes, I got choked up dropping them off. (That’s about me, too! My feelings!) Especially verklempt when we were a block away and I saw they were holding hands!!! I love that!!!! (I love exclamation points too!!! They probably discourage exclamation points in Middle School!!!)

No time for sentimental good byes. The girls literally ran away from me once we hit the schoolyard. They gave me the bum’s rush. And I was left with the other bums (parents), empty-handed on the sidewalk. I said to myself, “It’s a good day to go back to church. To pray for all the teachers and students.” Besides, I had a little time to kill before work.

At the first church, “The New Pleasant Church,” on 81st, the gates were open, but the door was locked. It looked like it had been turned into a theater any way. I would’ve enjoyed going to the theater, had even that been open, but No.

So I went to the Holy Trinity Church on West 82nd. I sat by myself in there. Very vast and wide and dark. I noticed the statues of Mary. How can Mary look so calm all the time? Where do churches get that placid Mary? Where’s the Hysterical Mary? Where’s the Mary who has 3 kids in Middle School?

I asked Mary, “How do you do it? Look so calm all the time? What’s the secret?”

She didn’t say. She just smiled beatifically, the way she does. Not really helping me out. She could use some Transactional Analysis and learn, like I learned in Middle School, that it’s okay to express your feelings. “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”

Mary stood there. Candles at her feet and a fan beside her.