Three Red Apples and the Virgin Mary

by Carolin Messier

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When I was a child I believed in the Virgin Mary. God the Father, his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit were part of the family, but it was the Virgin Mother, with her peaceful expression, open palms, and voluminous blue robes who captivated me. Jesus hung on the crucifix bleeding, in mortal pain with nails piercing his hands and feet, a violent stab wound in his side, and a circle of thorns which drew even more rivulets of blood from his scalp. His expression was all agony and suffering. Mary’s statue was always surrounded by flowers and candles. She was a mother who had lost her only son. She should have been weeping in agony, but she was all beauty and grace. As a lonely child with my own hidden, unspoken-of suffering, it was an easy choice of whom I’d turn to for comfort. She must have the answers. My search for meaning and understanding was myopic, its gaze hypnotized by the flames of prayer candles I lit in every chapel and church I passed. I caressed the decades of pearly-white rosary beads between my fingertips as I mumbled the prayers, huddled with my stuffed dog in my closet or kneeling straight-backed in a pew. The rhythm calmed and comforted. But I’d turned to her for more than comfort; I’d turned to her for guidance, for answers that never came.

There was no epiphany, no sudden moment when I stopped believing in her divinity. As I grew older my world expanded; I traveled and moved away from home and away from the Church. The works of great thinkers, mostly dead white men, became the source materials in my quest for answers and wisdom. Works on philosophy and classic literature full of beautiful prose made me think and question. Art inspired me. I sought out masters and tried my hand at painting and then sculpting for several years. Next it was work, non-stop for decades: arbeit macht frei! All of these: reading, creating, and working, gave me something. Reading expanded my mind, exposed it to new ideas. Creating art sharpened my vision to see beauty everywhere. And I found something deeply satisfying in working hard then seeing the results of my labor; it made me respect the work of others. But none of these gave me the answers.

Throughout these years I began to see signs, signs everywhere, that pointed in the direction to go, that prompted decisions, and revealed the meaning of things. I dreamt of a man who looked like my ex-husband. When I then met him two weeks later for the first time, I thought it was a sign that we were meant to be together. After looking for a house in Spain for eight years, I found a house I loved within ten minutes of searching for a place in southwest France instead. I thought it was a sign, since it had been so easy, and we bought the place. The marriage ended six years ago and the house in France became a casualty of the economy shortly thereafter. I’d followed the signs. they were so obvious. No regrets. But they hadn’t provided the answers either.

Now, having lost everything more than once, I see signs everywhere: three red apples in the middle of the desert that inspired a poem, a lone elk in a field that inspired a promise, and just last week a pair of stainless steel rings found in the driveway which inspired a renewed commitment to my own well-being through self-care. But I no longer look to these signs as I did to the Virgin Mother or the works of great thinkers. I no longer look to them as something external, as something outside of me benevolently offering me the answers. The poem I wrote speaks a truth I believe deeply. The promise I made is one I am committed to even as I’ve failed it. And I have long known what is good for me, what feeds me and makes me feel whole. Simply by being, when we are still enough to hear them, we have the answers already. Sometimes the outside world is too loud and we can’t hear them. Or in our busyness of living we forget them. Now when I see signs I know it is my own mind and heart which are trying to speak to me my truth through the fog of distraction and self-doubt. I know that any meaning I find in them is meaning I’ve placed on them; they are symbols of my deepest values and needs. I am happy to be open enough, awake enough, to have reminders everywhere, Hail Mary.