*Above image is not of Mount Koressos mentioned below, but when I came across it, I was reminded of the photographs I’ve seen of it, and the entire nest of thoughts below came tumbling out.
My sister and brother-in-law came over for Easter Sunday dinner. They had declined to attend Thanksgiving with us just a few months back because we were too skittish about the spike in COVID cases at the time to share a single meal.
We have been in and out of Manhattan a couple of times in the last few weeks viewing potential homes in D.C. after spending nearly a full sixteen months in the city, with only a one-week reprieve on Long Island last July.
We have seen my parents and Mr. Magpie’s parents several times thanks to those brief visits to Washington after not seeing them — and the way my father-in-law is always early to the train station, and my mother is always perfumed, and my father is never without a handful of papers and envelopes to pass along with my initials in thick black sharpie at the top — for over a year.
Slowly, then quickly, more and more of my siblings and friends and cousins and acquaintances — healthy young people in their 20s and 30s — have gotten their vaccines.
Yesterday, Mr. Magpie and I got ours.
And, possibly accelerated by the frenzy of activity around finding a home and moving, what felt like quagmire now runs swiftly underfoot, as though a thin trickle of water has made its way through a stagnant pool and is now racing, rushing, crashing into a downhill stream turned river. That thin trickle was hope. It was the beginning of a prayer, the headwater of a Hail Mary.
A few years ago, my parents made a pilgrimage to Mount Koressos in Ephesus, Turkey. My father has mentioned the excursion a handful of times with a startling, spine-straightening solemnity:
“When we got there, your mother knelt and cried.”
My mother is not a dramatic person. When I was weepy with hormones and shock after the birth of my daughter, blubbering in my recovery bed, she took my hand and patted it a couple of times. “Now Jennifer, what is it?” Something about the question, and the way she busied herself arranging my pillows, asking whether I wanted this or that to eat, jolted me out of my tearful haze and returned me to the present. When my mother is moved, she will dab at her eyes and clear her throat and somehow, elegantly, without denigrating the intensity of the moment, emerge with a smile and walk right into the next thing — “Did you want a sandwich for lunch?” A high school girlfriend of mine, whom I have elsewhere presented as Amelia, always envied my mother’s poise and perspective in such moments, the way she could regain composure and reset the table in a matter of seconds. I remember remarking on the proximity between a graveyard and a playground while on that other-worldly trip to Annecy, and that observation fed into my comment that afternoon that “I keep waiting for the day when I can be like a grown woman about these things. Like, Elaine [my mother’s name] would be able to move on.” As in: my mother would be able to observe but not be derailed by monkey bars over tombstones. She has a way — conditioned by experience and time — of keeping herself moving.
So this vision of my mother prostrated in tears is irreconcilable. But my father has repeated this story so many times, and with so little variation, that it must be true. So there she was, kneeling and crying at the House of The Virgin Mary in Ephesus.
I have always felt a special devotion to The Virgin Mary. I have even, on afternoons passed in hazy reverie, when I am wraithlike with imagining and thought, pondered the symmetry of attending a grade school called Annunciation and then a high school called Visitation — the first two consecutive joyful mysteries of the rosary and both centered upon the figure of Mary. It was the rosary we took turns reading over the crackly P.A. system at my grade school: it was Hail Mary my trembling nine-year-old voice broadcast while I stood on a small stool in a plaid kilt, tentative but sedate. I was cast as Mary in the Christmas pageant in eighth grade, a slipshod production where the angels came out too early and someone’s candle caught fire with a wig in the vestibule, but I took the role seriously, arranging my face into one of solemnity on the altar. Mary has sat with me through the hardest days of my life. Her prayer is always at the tip of my tongue. When I wrote about my panic attack, I neglected to mention that when my mother came to me in the waiting room of the ER that afternoon, she squeezed my hands and said: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…” And again, when I found myself alone in a taxi cab in pre-term labor on the way to Mount Sinai on the Upper East Side, it was my mother’s calm voice on the line: “…blessed art though amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” And it was Hail Mary, too, at the beautiful candle-lit event that used to be held in the manicured green “quad” at my high school, when classmates and their mothers would form the shape of a rosary, each candle-wielding participant a “bead” alit by her neighbor, and my mother would stand with me, and I would occasionally find a lump in my throat as I witnessed something I could not put into words, and I suppose it was the first rivulet of reassurance that has carried me through the darknesses we have borne.
I guess what I am saying is that it is true: it begins with a prayer, and it ends with something laughably, improbably trivial, like the splash of champagne that spilled over the edge of a coupe on my Easter Sunday table as I sat with family after months of separation. Both are reassurances that life — that love — will find a way. It is my mother kneeling and crying at the House of Mary, and it is my mother calling me on the phone to ask: “Did you want me to pack you some snacks for the train ride home? I know you like Cheez-its.” It is the expansiveness of faith and the preening minutiae of motherhood, and one way or the other, we have made it.
+If you have a little girl, please look at BellaBliss’ 40% off spring sale — you need this precious swing set. Mini owned it in a different colorway and it was maybe my favorite outfit of her second year of life.
+Stunning spring plates — another reason why going with solid white is a good idea; you could layer one of these on top for a dramatic tabletop moment!
+Love these ribbed floral leggings for a tiny girl.