Shadow Of Your Wings
Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

I have often thought that I would like to make an eight-day directed retreat with only one conference a day in which the presenter would relate just one real-life story. Possibly, a pertinent Scripture passage could be suggested. On the other hand, very likely, a word from Scripture would probably emerge all by itself. Real-life stories are commentaries on our inner stories, stories never lived before and never to be repeated. We know that these stories are able to touch the depths of a person. They fill our emptiness, and often cast a sweet balm on our aloneness. It goes without saying that they tell us more about the deep mysteries of life. The following is one such story.

One Real-life Story

Louisa, a highly-skilled doctor, shared with a doctor friend how she keeps a picture of her Italian-born grandmother in her home and of how she sits before it a few minutes each day before she leaves for work. In a way, this is much like praying before an icon. Once, when Louisa was very small, her kitten was killed in an accident. Since this was her first brush with death, Louisa was devastated. Her parents told her that “Peaches” was now in heaven with God. Unconsoled, Louisa asked God to give the kitten back. When this did not happen, Louisa turned to her grandmother and asked, “Why?” Her grandmother did not tell her that her kitten was in heaven. Instead, she simply held Louisa on her lap and reminded her of the time when her grandpa died. Like Louisa, her grandmother had prayed to God that grandpa might be returned to her. But this did not happen. Grandpa did not come back. Louisa buried herself in the soft warm shoulder of her grandmother and sobbed. After some time, when Louisa looked up through her tears at her grandmother, she saw that her grandmother was crying as well. A great loneliness was lifted from Louisa’s heart.

Years later, Louisa found herself saying to her friend, “My grandmother was a lap, a place of refuge. I want to be that for my patients, a place from which they can face life and not be alone.”1

For some reason, this story reminds me of the many portrayals of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, some of which picture the Mother seated with the Child on her knee. As I write, I have an icon before me, picturing Mary and the Child bending over the world with deep compassion. She seems to be saying, “All shall be well in spite of what you see.”

Legend has it that, at a very troubled time, the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was given to St. Simon Stock, who was then general of the Carmelite order. It was a sign from God and from Mary that the Carmelite Order would endure, even though things appeared quite the opposite at the time. These days, perhaps the scapular carries that same assurance, not just for Carmel but for the world. All shall be well, in spite of what we see happening. It is for us to cling to that promise. Humanly speaking, it is comforting just to touch the soft brown wool of Mary’s scapular. In spirit, may she come, again.

Life Is Real

I ask myself, “What in the opening story makes something in my own depths resonate?” First of all, I was reminded, again, of the value of praying before a sacred image and of allowing it to speak to my heart. Then, too there is the grandmother with her natural wisdom. Life is real. While we might like God to return our grandfathers, this does not happen. We do not get our grandfathers back- nor our friends, nor all those who meant and still mean so much to us. At times, all we can do is cry. However, with each loss, or stark event, a new aspect of life opens up for us, The loss carries us forward. As St. John of the Cross so aptly points out, if, in the plan of God, we are to go from one place to another, we will be walking a path different from the one we are now on.

The other day, I was in a store making a purchase. Ahead of me, two people, seemingly unrelated, stood at the counter in dialogue with the clerk. The clerk’s face winced with pain. When it was my turn, I asked if something was wrong. The clerk told me that she had been on the phone giving someone directions when a customer at the counter told her that she, the customer, was more important than the person on the phone. With that, the customer went to inform the manager.

I had just been working on the current article when this incident occurred. I thought to myself: “One cannot always be a lap or a shoulder for another in distress. It is not always appropriate. But, maybe it is possible to be a cushion to soften the blow.” Caught somewhat off guard, I heard myself saying to the clerk, “Maybe something good will happen later in the day to make up for this.”

One Act Of Kindness Lives On

We know that one act of compassion or kindness often lives on and can be a source of strength years later. When St. Therese, the Little Flower, was a mere child of ten and also quite ill, Our Lady smiled at her. There was a statue of Mary in her room. Therese never forgot this. Later, when her young life was drawing to a close, Therese was sometimes heard repeating her own poem: “O you who came to smile on me at Life’s beginning, come once again to smile on me. The night is nigh.”2 It was Therese’s night of faith.

It seems like it would be helpful to recall all those times in the past when another offered us a shoulder or a listening heart. We might even want to thank them. Perhaps, each evening upon retiring, we could ask ourselves: “In what way did I experience the embrace of God, today? Did I pass on this compassion and tenderness to another? What are my plans for the morrow?”

1 For a complete recounting of this story, see Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. , My Grandfather’s Blessings. New York:Riverhead Books, 2000, p. 164 ff.
2 St. Therese of Lisieux, Her Last Conversations. Trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1977, p.236.