Tag Archives: catholicism

mansuetude


mansuetude n. meekness; gentleness

Mary, the mother of God, has always had a special, quiet existence in my life. She is a constant, graceful reminder to me of meekness and gentleness and has marked my life from childhood to this day.

I remember going to my grandmother’s house while my mother was ill and my father working. Being an Italian immigrant, she had several religious statues around the house, including a fully dressed infant of Prague who had it’s own wardrobe. Next to the prized infant was a stark painted statue of Mary as well as Saint Theresa. I remember having to sleep in my grandmother’s bed when I stayed over. She snored so loudly and I was up for most of the night imagining that her wheezing and snorting had a rhythmic beat. During those nights I would stare at Mary and she would stare back at me until I feel asleep.

In school, we would prepare for the crowning of Mary with flowers each May. All of the names of the little girls in class would go into a hat to see who would be chosen to walk up the aisle and crown the church statue during our First Friday mass. There was even a song we would sing – “Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today…” that I still remember fondly. I never was chosen to crown Mary, but it was always my favorite mass. Mary was my icon of quiet strength and mansuetude as she held up her hands, looked up to heaven and stepped on the snake with such beauty and gentleness.

As I grew older, Mary took on more profound meaning in my life. During one of my sleepless nights when caring for my dying father I remember seeing a water stain on the ceiling above his bed that had a shape like the silhouette of the Virgin Mary. I hadn’t noticed it before and it comforted me to think that she was watching over my father. As he progressed through the final stages of dying, he would speak to invisible people and one of them was named Mary. He could have been seeing his mother who was named Mary and had died when he was just a child. Nevertheless, in my memories it is was Mary who watched over and protected him; who held him in her arms as he died. It was her song – Ave Maria – that was played at his funeral that I cannot hear without crying and remembering the loss of my father.

Mary is who I pray to when I am most scared and alone. When the plane is taking off or I am in fear of losing someone I love. She is the saint that I imagine quietly standing in my corner through out my life. She watches over me without pomp or circumstance, never asking for anything but my faith in return. As Mother’s Day approaches and I watch my son grow and thrive each day, I pray to become an example of gentleness and meekness in his life…the eyes he can stare into as he drifts to sleep, the arms that will hold him in times of pain and sorrow. Always silently, gently in his corner as his mother.

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pudeur


pudeur n. a sense of shame or embarrassment, especially with regard to matters of a sexual or personal nature

The Oxford also mentions the synonym of modesty for this word, but I am have never thought as modesty as being shameful or embarrassed. However, now that I think about it, I suppose it does.

Modesty or pudeur is a rare commodity these days. Growing up in Catholic school, modesty was something that was imposed. Having to wear a uniform everyday and not being allowed to differentiate yourself imposed a certain need to find other ways of standing out, such as being smart or artistic. Girls were still nasty and formed cliques, but at least in the classroom, a smart or creative girl could feel good about herself. When my beloved little private school closed, I was forced to go to public school…and such modesty as I had learned did not go over well.

I was a victim of some very harsh bullying. I was a chubby 12 year old girl who didn’t wear makeup and wore unfashionable clothes that my parents bought me from Bradlees. One particular girl – who wasn’t even popular or pretty (I was so low on the totem that the popular girls didn’t even acknowledge me) dubbed me “meatballs” and I had the extreme pleasure of being called that everyday of my life at school…until I smashed her in the face with my school books. My parents told me that if I was going to survive, I needed to toughen up and give up my shy, modest and good girl ways. At that point I pushed aside my love of drawing, reading and writing so I could fully focus on improving myself in ways that the world wouldn’t cast off.

The summer after my first year in public school, I exercised everyday and nearly starved myself. I walked up and down the stairs in my house listening to Paula Abdul sing “Forever Your Girl” over and over again. By the time it was Fall and the beginning of the school year, I was thin. I forced my parents to take me to get clothes that weren’t embarrassing and when I started school on the first day the sounds of praise and compliments gave me a sense of satisfaction that I still rarely achieve to this day. I wasn’t popular, but I fit in. And it felt damn good. So good that I had a pretty great 4 years of high school.

After my high school graduation, my father was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that would eventually take his life in 2 short years. I had hinged everything in my little world on college so when he was diagnosed on the day I was supposed to leave for my freshman year, it all fell apart for me. I worked in a factory for 6 months and ate my way through the pain until I was once again a chubby, badly dressed introvert. When I finally got to college I found myself in the same place I had been on my first year in public school…so the process began again (without the Paula Abdul music).

Over the course of my life this scenario has played itself out time and time again. I am 33 now and I find myself back in the throws of trying to lose the weight so I can fit into the right clothes so I can find the right job…all to get back to that blissful feeling of acceptance. I continually push down my modesty, my creativity and my overall awkwardness in order to attain what I have come to recognize as happiness, when that is not what it is at all.

Happiness is something that comes from within. When I listen to my son laugh, I feel it for a moment and it’s blissful. Perhaps happiness is something that I have no right to feel everyday, every minute, every hour. For me, I think it is something rare and treasured, similar to love but more fragile…in my opinion.

I want contentment. A steady lack of worrisome thoughts and faith in who I am as a person. I want the courage to face the world as I am without sacrificing anything. I want to know the strength to be called “meatballs”, to smash that girl in the face once again – but this time, to go right on living without changing a damn thing.

 

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