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Our Lady of Sorrows 2021

May 23 2021, a young black man was shot to death by police in front of my apartment. During the commotion that preceded the shooting I had rushed onto my balcony. I saw the whole thing. I called out to him while he lay in the parking lot as the police shouted at him to put his hands up. He couldn’t seem to do it so I was saying, “You can do it please do as they say! I’m praying for you!” I didn’t want them to shoot him again. Finally he was able to raise one shaking hand. He couldn’t seem to bring up the other arm.

He had come out of his apartment (next to mine) waving a gun earlier. When I saw that I knew they were going to shoot him. I decided that I was not going to turn away from what was about to happen. I felt I had no right to. I should remain.

As soon as he had finally put one hand up, a couple of officers turned him over on his face. It was raining. The parking lot has a lot of cracks and dips in it, repairs in the shape of square patches. He was in a bit of a puddle, still alive. His pants had fallen down when he was turned, exposing his naked butt and nobody pulled his pants up for him. The blood from his chest began seeping into the water around him.

That’s the scene that runs through my mind at least once a day.

He had looked so shocked when they shot him. He swayed and looked around at all the faces in front of him; each human face in the arc of police who had fanned out and then closed in. He looked at everyone before he collapsed.

Another neighbor had been caught between two cars and was hunched down crying. I went downstairs to hug her even though she was talking to her son on her cell phone. I heard the young man’s girlfriend screaming and the police shouting at her to stay back. I ran over there, worried she would get herself shot too, or arrested. I put my arms around her and reminded her that he needed her now, and she wanted to be able to be there for him so she should comply. She called to him that she loved him and she was there and she wasn’t going anywhere. She stayed back.

However when she saw her mother across the parking lot she ran to her with police shouting at her the whole way so I went with her and said over and over that she was just going to her mother. As we went past the stretcher, my arm brushed the young man accidentally and his head lolled to the side.

Everything happened so fast that day. I don’t know how objective I could ever be about something like this. I’m not trying to be.

I’m also not writing down everything that happened. These are the parts that have stayed with me the most, that tend to replay for me.

Soon after, maybe the next day, I saw a woman downstairs obviously overcome with traumatic grief. I went out on my balcony not knowing what to do but wanting to do something for her. She looked up at me so I called down to her and asked if she would like a hug. She said she would and I went down and held her close. She needed to sit down so we halfway got in her car and I held onto her.

“I can’t believe they shot my baby! How could they do that?”

There was nothing to say except “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth about these things. We can never understand them no matter what anyone says. At the bottom there is just no real answer.

This is what I am thinking about on this memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. We can say all of these exalted things about Mary’s sorrow and I know they are all true. But maybe we love her best when we remember that no answer satisfies a mother’s shattered heart.

Our Lady of Sorrows

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.

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