The profound suffering of another person is frightening to be present to. When my husband’s cancerous brain tumor came back after two years of remission, he asked to be alone for a while. When he wanted me there I came and got into his chair with him and held him. I listened to him talk about his feelings of raw desolation, anger, and even shame, of terror, of feeling there was no comfort anywhere.
I had no mitigating words to say. Even if I had they would have been inappropriate and insensitive. Even with the intense devotion and deep bond I had with him, there were moments I wanted to run out in the back yard away from the enormity of what he was expressing. So I prayed as I listened; just the names of Jesus and Mary every time that urge came up. That simple effort made me able to share that space with him.
When he eventually asked how I felt about this on a spiritual level, all I had was the fact of Christ’s suffering. At least as we went through this we had a God who didn’t die in a shower of rose petals but naked and bleeding like an animal, nailed to a cross, with a cry of spiritual abandonment only just having died on his lips.
My husband nodded gravely.
I thought of Mary, surrounded by mockers, violent men, her weeping friends, silently sharing the space with her Son.
I believe she was near to me as I tried to open my heart to its fullest in the weeks that followed; through Bobs creeping paralysis, his growing confusion, his final inability to speak. She was close, I know, when I tried to surrender with love at the right time to set my husband free when he was ready.
Mary was the face of love to Jesus as he suffered. I tried to be that too, to lay my own grief aside. I have no doubt that is what she did at the Cross. I am sure she thought to herself, “I will grieve later. Right now I have to be here for him, I want to look at his beautiful living face as long as I can in these last moments.” I am sure about this because when you love, that is what you do.
May Our Lady pray for us when we are called to walk with someone who suffers terribly, which all of us are in some way at some time. May she companion us when we must find a way to love more than we feel able, to seek the true meaning of profound compassion that she embodied at the scene of her Son’s execution.
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
… she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
~St. John of the Cross
I have to kneel at her bedside since it is just a mattress on the floor. When she nods a go-ahead to me, I peel her blankets carefully aside. I am moved to see that underneath these she holds a wall crucifix against her heart. I smile. “Jesus!” I exclaim, and she smiles hesitantly back at me. I gently set the crucifix beside her. Wordlessly I ask permission for my intended task by gesturing to the tub of soapy water I have brought. She nods. I take the rag, and wringing it out, I bathe the swollen, arthritic hands of this emaciated woman who has found no room, no help, no comfort in our hospitals, homes, or hearts in her time of need. In so doing I suddenly feel that the hands I bathe are those of the Mother of God here present in her suffering daughter. “No room, no room,” we have said to her in so many ways.
O Mary, my Mother, Mother of God,
obtain for us the mercy
of being merciful,
open our hearts
and our lives to you.
I unzip her sweat jacket to find a wrinkled tee shirt of Our Lady of Guadalupe underneath, her face peaking out at me as the zipper goes down. I have to sit back for a minute in my amazement at the serendipity in this. It is as if Mother Mary is confirming my thoughts.
Didn’t Mary appear to St. Juan Diego as one of the poor and disregarded herself, in a complete visual identification with them, in her dress, facial features and skin color, also saying, “I am the Perfect and Ever Virgin Mary, Most Holy Mother of God.” This is what Mary seems to say to me in this moment of simple revelation. “Am I not here who am your Mother?”
Yes, you are here.
Full of grace, intercede for us.
Intercede for this child of yours who needs help and welcome.
Medically neglected for years because of lack of resources, little help from others, and the constant fear of deportation she lives in, her disease is now unnecessarily advanced and irreversible, the pain unspeakable. She knows the extreme of poverty. She has experienced in her body the denial of any claims of the alien among us for anything at all.
Pierced Heart of Mary, pray for us.
It has been impossible for her to bathe herself and she has not allowed her teenaged sons to do so as yet. It appears, thankfully, that she may allow me, possibly as I am in scrubs, a woman, and someone she has come to trust a little.
Her arms, which she can barely move because of the pain, have to be scrubbed for long want of attention. The skin is rough and cracked. I remove bright yellow socks from pain twisted feet, being careful to wash between each crooked toe. She sighs with relief as I lay the hot washrag on her chest and stomach. She seems surprised when I add lotion and a few dabs of lavender essential oil.
I realize the graciousness of what I am being taught, even though I feel shy right along with her. This is living reparation, I realize, to the heart of the Holy Mother, broken by indifference, ingratitude and hostility toward her in the littlest of her children.
Mother of Our Lord, accept this small act of reparation and be consoled.
I respectfully bathe as much of her body as I dare, as much as she indicates I may, each time I “ask.” I enjoy the privilege of washing her long, black hair. This is a tricky job since she is bed bound, hurting, and can hardly move. Gingerly and with growing reverence I cleanse the high cheek bones and artistic lines of her face, making sure to wash around her mouth, eyes and eye lids as tenderly as I would those of the dearest child or of my own mother.
The Lord is with thee.
She looks at me intently, her honey colored eyes inscrutable as I apply moisturizer to her pretty face and graceful neck. How beautiful she is!
I sit back on my heels and wring out my washcloth one more time. We look at each other.
I tell her thank you. She considers this.
“Gracias, Chawn,” she says with gracious dignity.
“You are my Queen,” I say.
She smiles. “OK, Chawn.”
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Have compassion on the heart of your Most Holy Mother (Mary)
covered with thorns,
with which the ungrateful pierce it at every moment,
and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.
~The Christ Child appearing to Sister Lucia of Fatima
Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor,
Mother of the immigrant, the sick, the forgotten,
of those denied human dignity and compassion among us,
allow us the grace of ministering to you and dicovering you and your Son,
in the despised and abandoned of your children.
Open our hearts to gratitude,
that we may make living reparation to yours.
May justice and mercy become our sacrifice of joy.
My late husband, Bob Chapman, had a strong sense of community. He was deeply aware that everything he did or did not do affected everyone else’s life, that we all have an effect on one another, all the time, in all we touch and do. He called this his “skin religion,” and he tried to live it to the full.
He cultivated a constant awareness of others, and had a knack for seeing how each might be helped, and then doing it. He noticed people’s needs and contributions every day.
He always encouraged someone he saw working hard, or doing something good. He pitched in an act of kindness everywhere he could.
The sign shaker guy on the corner was cold and needed a hot chocolate. Bob bought one and had me take it out to the man.
A girl at a small town grocery store was putting back all that she had in her basket. Unknown to her, Bob had watched her do this. Following behind, he had put her things in his own basket. As he paid, he had me run outside and ask her to wait a minute. I asked this girl what was wrong. “I was out of money on my food stamp card. I thought I had more.” “What were you getting?” “After school snacks for my kids.” And here comes Bob, handing her a bag of groceries.
A kid in our neighborhood loved basketball, and played often in his driveway. Bob noticed his net was broken one day. He went and got the kid a net, leaving it on his front porch.
I remember a time he fixed the cook’s car in the parking lot at the Vietnamese restaurant we liked. He asked about it every time, too, to make sure it was still running OK.
When he got where he shouldn’t be driving anymore because of the return of his brain tumor, he gave his truck away to someone at work who needed a vehicle.
When Bob mowed our lawn, he always mowed the neighbor’s yard, too. Sometimes he went around the corner to mow an elderly couple’s yard while he was at it, as a matter of course. He considered it to be what he was supposed to do.
When he saw anything broken, he fixed it. He would never have thought of not doing so. It was his gift. So it’s what he did. Bob walked around with a wrench in his back pocket. It made me smile. It was a good symbol of his sense of purpose.
After Bob’s death following a valiant fight with Brain Cancer (April 13, 2012,) to celebrate his birthday, December 13th, we began what we call, “The Bobly Day.” It is a day of random acts of kindness, of noticing the needs around us, of sneaky good deeds, gestures of love and service, wherever we are.
2017 will be our 5TH December to celebrate Bob’s birthday this way. It is mainly a Face Book event. Friends invite their friends, who invite their friends. People who never knew Bob celebrate this day along with those of us who did. On the event page, I ask that people report back to the rest of us what they did. Whoever is comfortable with sharing does so.
The usual number of people officially “signed up” are a bit over 100 people. We have “Bobly friends” in New York City, Chicago, California, South Africa, Scotland,
and of course, here in Texas, going out and looking for good deeds to do and having fun doing them!
Streets have been picked up, (something Bob used to do around the neighborhood,) stranded motorists helped, leaves raked, gifts given, appreciation expressed, hugs offered, needy children cheered, angry words held back, veterans’ needs attended to, rides given, smiles exchanged, tabs paid, and animals helped. Here are some of the examples people have shared the last six years, on face book, or e-mail, or by telling me.
“I helped an old guy in line at the doctor’s office who needed blood pressure medicine but had no money for the required doctor visit. I paid for his visit so he could get his medicine.”
“Was going to go out of town this weekend, but gave my trip money to a Christian rehab center instead!”
“Today at the Texas Aggie women’s basketball game, my husband and I bought teddy bears to donate to their teddy bear drive.”
“I taught a guitar lesson to a girl who couldn’t afford a teacher.”
“While walking through the airport, I spotted an elderly lady resting on a huge recliner. I realized it was a massage chair. I put $5 (the maximum) in the slot and it started humming and moving that dear, little lady. She let out an audible “ooooo” and smiled ever so broadly. She then thanked me and said, “My, but it HAS been a long time”, winked and then smiled some more. I’m not sure which one of us was enjoying her “massage” more. I’m giggling as I type this.”
“The kids made blankets for the hospital, and took them there today. They spent some of their own money to get the materials.”
“I paid it forward at the What- a- Burger drive through!”
“I hugged a homeless guy and took him lunch.”
“I gave up my seat on the subway.”
“I shared about the Bobly Day and his life with someone going through her fifth round of cancer.”
“There was a man on the corner with a sign that said “I have three kids.” I have my three girls in the car and would do anything for them. I handed him a 20 and said Merry Christmas.”
“I made gifts for the people that work at all the fast food places I go to. They were thrilled!”
“Today I’m donating baby things for moms in need.”
Looking for ways to help others is one of the ways Bob Chapman lived, and found meaning in his beautiful life, by practicing his “skin religion.” We can, too.
“I want my job to be just going around and helping people- fixing their car if they need it, mowing their lawn, getting them groceries, whatever they need, and to tell them, ‘God loves you!’ ~ Bob Chapman
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