The Mary Perspective

For at least the last eight years, I have played the older Mary in our Easter productions at church.  Yes, I still have at least another 15-20 years before I am the same age as Mary at the time of the crucifixion, but I have makeup and stage lighting to complete the illusion.  I usually end up with this role by default since I can fake the age and I know how to direct on stage without being noticed.  The last several times I have played her, Mary has been a monologue speaking role.  No matter what the role has entailed, it has forced my view of the events surrounding the crucifixion to be colored by Mary’s view, even the Lord’s Supper that our church observed last week.

Perhaps the monologue has been the most pointed in requiring me to look at Jesus’s death as a mother and to feel the injustice that Mary must have felt.  She knew from the first announcement of the angel that this child would be destined for supernatural things, but she probably never imagined that he would be taken from her in such a cruel form of death.  Parents never want to consider that they could outlive their children; we think it violates the natural order of life.  How painful was it to watch her child be sentenced to death and then crucified?  We’ve probably all seen at least a photo of Michelangelo’s Pieta which depicts Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms just after the crucifixion.  It’s a beautiful and moving sculpture.  To portray that moment on stage puts you inside the sculpture – inside the intense sadness and agony that Mary must have felt.

Of course she knew that he had predicted his own death, and she would know in a few days that her son had been resurrected from the dead to live forever.  But in that moment, it must have felt like the end of her own life and the beginning of something far more terrible than death: any parent who must live on after a child’s death knows that you wish you had died with them so that you wouldn’t have to face the daily pain of living without them.  This isn’t suicidal; it is a natural part of grief and a feeling you’ll face until you learn how to cope with the loss. I’m sure that once I move past this stage of loss in my life that I will see still more perspectives of the crucifixion.  Right now, I feel that Mary and I have a lot in common, and it colors every part of my Easter experience.  It doesn’t change the most important part of Easter: Jesus Christ came to earth as a human, lived a perfect and sinless life, was killed on a cross as a perfect and holy sacrifice for my sins, and then rose from the dead so that I could live in relationship with God forever.  That’s the Easter story no matter what perspective I bring to it.

All I Want for Christmas…

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday – not for any one reason in particular, but Christmas on the whole is pretty great.  There are special decorations, special songs, special events that all center on God’s greatest gift to earth that wouldn’t be realized as such until Christ’s death and resurrection.  Christmas is a promise that the gift of a miraculous birth would end up bringing rebirth for all humanity.  I’m sure as a kid that Christmas was all about getting gifts, but at some point the gift emphasis shifted to finding good gifts to give others.  I love finding or making something that suits the recipient and shows them in some small way that I love them enough to find something they will like or will use.  One of my favorite Christmas mornings was the year that my siblings and I decided to be Santa for our parents.  We gathered a few special big gifts, we painted (probably horribly tacky since flourescent puff paint was involved, but proudly well-worn anyway) sweatshirts for them and conned at least one grandmother into helping us purchase some extra little things.  Since my room was the only one downstairs and thus closest to the tree, I squirreled away the extra loot and woke up super early to put our Santa gifts out before the grand entrance to the living room.  I couldn’t wait to see my parents see their Santa loot; it was probably all I thought about for weeks.

Christmas has always been a sparkly, magical time.  I really want to feel that way again about my favorite holiday, but over the last several years, it has been difficult to rally any luster at all.  Until this year, I hadn’t even gotten the pre-lit tree out for two years in a row, and we only had stockings out for Christmas day.  Three years ago, I wouldn’t have had a tree up at all except my brother and sister put it up the weekend before Christmas; I wouldn’t let them decorate it so that I wouldn’t have to pack up ornaments.  This year, I actually decorated, and we have wreaths in the window and lights and garland on the porch and ornaments on the tree.  I think subconsciously I wanted the decorations to ignite the Christmas spirit I lost (okay, maybe it was more like a deliberate effort rather than a subconscious desire), but it hasn’t really worked the way I had hoped.  Nor have the copious Christmas songs on the radio or the peppermint coffee or the eggnog or the crazy neighborhood assortment of lights and inflatable figures (including a nativity scene with wise men) elicited the same kind of zeal I used to have for all things Christmas.

The only thing that’s close is the joy of matching the right gift with the right person, and even that has taken a few years to get back.  The worst Christmas ever was the one right after the third miscarriage.  It happened right before Christmas, and each family gathering was just an exercise in emotional control.  I wanted nothing more than to disappear or hibernate; I think I actually prayed for a hole in the earth to open and swallow me up during one of the family gift exchanges.  For the first time in my life, I just bought stuff to wrap so that everyone who was supposed to have a gift would get something from us.  While there is something to be said for getting through a tough time even if it’s by rote, there was no joy at all in that Christmas.  It was hard enough dealing with the first post-miscarriage Christmas knowing what could have been, but Christmas hasn’t been the same since that one horrible year.  You’d think (or I used to, anyway) that if you love something as much as I loved the Christmas season, that it would be a simple thing to just enjoy it no matter what.  Perhaps that is the most insidious thing about grief and depression: it robs you of the simplest joys or changes them just enough to be both recognizable and simultaneously unattainable – the oasis you can see with water you can never drink.

I’m sure a Dickensian catharsis awaits (cue the orchestrated carol of your choice and ringing bells here) if I could only embrace the true meaning of Christmas.  But the reality is that special holidays that focus on family time are just hard to deal with.  It is nearly impossible to mark the holiday season without also marking the milestones we’re missing.  For the day that I got to be pregnant not quite two months ago (think pregnant without feeling like everything is going wrong), I ticked off the markers in my head: by Christmas, we would have seen the heartbeat on ultrasound; by Valentine’s, we would have been entering the second trimester; by my birthday, we would know if it was a boy or a girl…  The main marker being the heartbeat and the only thing I told God I wanted for Christmas – the same way a child puts only one thing on their list when they know it’s a huge gift.  I think everyone did that as a child with some outrageous desire, even if you were too afraid to say it out loud: “If I got a pony for Christmas, I wouldn’t want anything else,” even if you were happy with every other present you got, and even if you knew you were never going to get a pony.  That heartbeat was my outrageous wish list for Christmas, and that’s another reason Christmas spirit is hard to come by.

Even though I didn’t get my heartbeat, and if I never got anything else, all I really want for Christmas is to love Christmas again.  I miss whole-heartedly singing carols without crying when I really think about the words; I miss driving around at night looking at lights; I miss the innocence of Christmas without loss.