The Challenge of Embracing That Which We Cannot Change

Have the life you want by being present to the life you have.

Mark Nepo, spiritual writer/poet


lily_of_the_valley

Convallaria majalis.

Lily of the Valley, a delicate flower that blooms in the spring (late April and early May) is a sweetly-scented and highly poisonous plant native throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The flower was a favorite of my wife’s Aunt Rose, who, at the age of 101, passed away in the early morning hours of the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Aunt Rose came to live with us after her 99th birthday, when we suggested that she should no longer live alone in her city row-home (we now call them townhouses). Never married, independent, and an accomplished nurse-anesthetist, she had definite opinions and ideas, including her own funeral arrangements. She wrote that she wanted no flowers except for Lily of the Valley, but only if it was in season. We happen to have two beds of the flower in our backyard, but it had not blossomed by the time of her funeral on Easter Monday.

Instead, I found fresh Lily of the Valley that could be ordered online, but each stem cost about ten dollars. Aunt Rose, a practical and frugal woman, would not have approved that expense! So we thought that silk Lily of the Valley mixed with Canadian white freesia, which is very fragrant, would make an appropriate bouquet for the funeral. And that is what we did. Yesterday, when I arrived home from church, I saw the first blooms of Lily of the Vally in our backyard – one week too late.

our_ladys_tears

Known as “Our Lady’s tears,” the droplets of Lily of the Valley blossoms symbolize the tears of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, the flower is often used in traditional bridal bouquets. I am not sure why Lily of the Valley was Aunt Rose’s favorite flower. Was it the sweet fragrance, the delicate blossoms, or perhaps the symbolism? The simplicity of the flower may have been the overall appeal. In any event, the flower was one week too late!

How many times in our lives have our personal calendars been upset by circumstances beyond our control? And often, we try to go to the extreme to make what we want – what we had originally planned, happen. In her own practical and simple way, Aunt Rose told us what she wanted, and absolutely what she did not want, cautioning us countless times not to deviate from her simple arrangements. Yet, in the emotion of the moment, we wanted to “honor” her wishes by importing a flower out of season at an elaborate expense. Thankfully, we paused and reflected on what she would have wanted, realizing that it was ok.

Sometimes I wonder if, in this culture of constant improvement, of exceeding previous goals, of going “above and beyond,” and breaking records, we have not compromised our sense of acceptance of those things that we cannot change. It often becomes difficult for us to not get what we want.

At this time of the year, our seniors have already received their college acceptances, rejections and wait-lists. Our juniors are working hard to maintain their GPA’s, elevate their ACT/SAT scores, and build their essays for the college admissions process ahead. Our freshman and sophomores have their own challenges too. And at some point, while we “push the envelope” of our capabilities, we have to acknowledge that we have done all that we can do, and accept that which we cannot change.

It is not defeat; it is accepting the course of events and working with them. And I believe that these moments of disappointment or frustration when our plans do not materialize as we had anticipated, are opportunities for teaching and reflection – a time to let go and embrace the challenge.

All of our students at Archmere are wonderful creations of God, each with unique talents and gifts. As the 2013-14 academic year draws to a close in a few weeks, and students assess their individual experiences, I hope that they celebrate successes. Most importantly, I hope they can acknowledge their failures and recognize what could and could not be helped.

As much as I wanted fresh Lily of the Valley for Aunt Rose’s funeral, it just was not practical. And she would have agreed. Instead, we will enjoy the fragrance of the cut blossoms in our home this week, and we will surely bring a bouquet to her resting place in remembrance.

“Tis the Month of Our Mother:” Celebrating Mary & Our Mothers

“’Tis the Month of Our Mother” is an older Catholic hymn sung often at this time of year when the Catholic Church traditionally has honored Mary during the month of May. The first lines of the song are:

’Tis the month of our Mother,
The blessed and beautiful days,
When our lips and our spirits,
are glowing with love and with praise.

Refrain:
All Hail! to thee, dear Mary,
the guardian of our way;
To the fairest of Queens,
Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May.

In the refrain, Mary’s “Queenship” in the third line refers to our Catholic Church belief that, when she died, like Jesus, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Conceived without original sin and the mother of Jesus, she was honored by God by her assumption. Catholics have given her the title of “Queen of Heaven,” a title taken from ancient sky goddesses in the Mediterranean and Near East.

Tomorrow, Archmere celebrates the Ascension into Heaven of Jesus, her Son. Thursday, May 9, is the traditional date, though some dioceses, including Wilmington, have moved the observance to Sunday, May 12, which also happens to be Mother’s Day.

When I attended my Catholic parish grade school from first through eighth grade, I looked forward to participating in the parish May Procession each year. We would sing Marian songs and prayers, and then crown the statue of the Blessed Mother in Church. It was a big event, and as students, we would practice the songs as part of religion class for weeks in advance.

The second grade First Communion Class, dressed in white, led the long procession of students. Two or three of them were selected to be in the May Court of students. These students actually placed the crown of flowers on the statue of Mary.

The procession of students in the school uniform of blue and white, led by altar servers with candles, incense, and processional cross, walked around the block in reverent silence, two-by-two, shortest to tallest, from the school building to the Church. Parents, aunts, uncles, and friends lined the sidewalks to watch the procession pass, then quickly moved into the church through the side doors to watch as the procession entered the Church down the main aisle.

The organ swelled with the strains of the opening hymn to Mary, and the assembly sang robustly the first of several Marian songs throughout the prayer service. When the appropriate time came for the May Crowning ceremony, the eighth grade girls, each carrying one long white gladiola, lined the Church’s center aisle. With their flowers, they formed a series of arches, under which the children from the second grade May Court would pass as they made their way to the altar of Mary adorned with flowers and ferns.

After the event, which ended with Benediction, there were the obligatory family pictures on the Church lawn with family members before heading home. But the May celebrations of Mary did not end. Each school day in May, we were invited to bring flowers from home to place before the May altar that would be set up in our school classroom with a statue of Mary. I remember bringing in azalea clippings, lilacs, and bouquets of a flowering white shrub called, spiraea alpine spring flower, wrapped in aluminum foil. We would recite the Memorare or a decade of the Rosary as part of our daily prayers in May.

Of course, it was easy for me as a child to make the connection between Mother’s Day and the devotions to Mary, our Blessed Mother. My brothers and I revered my mother and appreciated all that she did for us and for our extended family. She, in turn, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, and would always encourage us to turn to Mary in prayer.

I just read an article in the May 7 edition of The News Journal, entitled “Mothers never really become obsolete,” written by Momspeak Columnist Tracy Grant of The Washington Post. In the article, Grant claims that a mother’s goal is to teach her children life skills so that they can become independent. She comments, however, how hard it is sometimes to “let go” of special moments. Her sons are now 17, and she writes:

And I know, too, that even while I lament their growing independence, this is life as it should be. I’ve decided I’m going to stop looking in their rooms to see unmade beds and feel frustrated. Soon enough, the beds will be made and will stay made for weeks or months.

But Grant concludes the article referencing a text message from her son that ends with “Love you Mom.” She writes, “The feeling that clutches at my chest as I read those words will never become obsolete.”

Grant and I agree that “recognizing a mom’s efforts is not just one Sunday in May; it’s 365 days of the year.” Celebrating motherhood and all that our mothers do for our families seems to be a natural and universal reaction. It is appropriate then, that we recognize the work of our Mothers’ Guild, joined by our Fathers’ Club volunteers this year, on May 15 at a gathering in The Patio.

assumption_murillo

Assumption of The Virgin
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The very first Mothers’ Guild in 1932 presented to Archmere a reproduction of the 1670 painting, “The Assumption of the Virgin.” Painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, it is a symbol of the Norbertine’s devotion to Mary. The painting hangs in the Music Room of The Patio, which served as the school’s first chapel from 1932 until 1970. Since the founding of the Norbertine Community in 1120, many abbeys, priories, and houses dedicated themselves to Mary, each carrying one of her many titles.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one of nearly 50 titles found in the Litany of Loreto, a prayer of the Church to the Blessed Mother that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a title most fitting for this month when we use a crown of flowers and not a queenly crown of gold and precious stones to show our devotion to Mary. In keeping with the Norbertine tradition, it is a title most special to Archmere, exemplified in Murillo’s painting.

As Grant points out, celebrating mothers and motherhood is not just a one-day event. With Mary as a perfect example of all that a mother sacrifices, endures, enjoys, and loves, we are especially grateful for our mothers during this special month of May, but we also know how much we appreciate and love them every day.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, we pray for them and ask them to pray for us. For those of us who may not have known a mother, we pray in gratitude for those who may have taken up the formative tasks of motherhood, acknowledging that we love them just as a child loves his or her mother.

In closing, I share with you the Marian antiphon Regina caeli laetare. The “Queen of Heaven” hymn is recited during the last hour of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of Night Prayer:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Happy Mother’s Day!