Before my reflections on The Virgin Mary, here’s a very, very short story that I wrote. Remember, it’s fiction!
The droning sound of the family reunion seemed to vibrate with the heat of the sun, penetrating Melanie’s brain.
Boring my brain. She smirked at her pun.
She exhaled loudly through pouting lips, but no one heard. None of the people gathered in the riverside park seemed to even notice her. She was glad of this, not wanting to get dragged into conversations about someone’s annoying coworker or stubborn hangnail. She didn’t want to hear about Facebook memes on political pettiness or the ridiculing of neighbors. Even the children that she saw trying to skip stones across the river were starting to bicker and whine.
How can humans ever get anything right?
Melanie sighed again, but silently, from deep within. She felt sick of people … sick of people, just like everyone else.
Gazing at the Merrimack, she cast her vision downstream, following the flow of water in her mind as it departed from this little town, overflowing the attempt to dam a few miles away, then passing under the bridges of the city, sweeping and turning for miles and miles until it reached the sea. From the ocean, where did the waters of the river go? To distant shores of lush tropical islands and to busy ports rich with exotic aromas…. All that cool water that rushed by this park was going somewhere, somewhere that was far away, somewhere that was other than here … anywhere but here ….
Before she knew what was happening, Melanie was taking off toward the riverbank, running headlong with all of her yearnings, and happily jumping into the river.
Except she couldn’t.
It was a nice fantasy, powerfully vivid. But coming back to reality made her wheelchair feel even more rigid and her body even more immobile. Melanie took a deep breath, that weak deep breath of hers that strained against her twisted rib cage, and exhaled slowly, willing herself not to cry.
She did not want to be stuck with the shallow, round and round dronings of people. Nobody seemed to notice the lone tear that slid down her cheek nor her utter desolation in that moment. That was one consolation. The last thing that she wanted was a pity conversation with someone who didn’t know what to say to her and, so, would ask her what was new in her life and then, with that failing, try to cheer her up with some story about a YouTube dog.
Earlier, her uncle had come over to talk with her, and he had slipped beneath the surface of polite conversation into the deeper realms of his heaviest sorrows and fears. People sometimes unburdened themselves to Melanie like that, and she accepted it willingly, almost like a sacred responsibility. With her wasted limbs and easy smile, she was presumed to be sympathetic, maybe even wise. Although she was sick of people at the moment, it was only because she loved the depths of humanity and wanted more for each person than typical, infuriating shallowness. She was moved by her uncle when he began speaking about his cancer treatment last year, his eyes dark and soft. But he only dipped below the surface momentarily before he started criticizing the hospital’s billing practice and his doctor’s personality. The sorrowful horror of continual weakening, the aching sweetness of life, the fear of any day being your last — these realities with which Melanie greatly sympathized — were left unexplored.
Watching the children at the edge of the river, she saw one boy venturing out into it, glancing back over his shoulder to make sure that his parents weren’t watching. He just stood in the flow of the water, watching it go by him. Was he imagining where the river would go, or was he simply looking for a fish to swim by his legs? Melanie remembered that saying that a person can never step into the same river twice. If that boy hopped out of the river and back in again, it wouldn’t be the same water that curled coolly around his ankles.
Rivers were always changing.
Rivers didn’t need to carry someone to a change in scenery, in fact, by floating along on the current, the real renewal of the river itself would be missed. The change was happening in one spot, right here, right now. Melanie gazed upon the dark, glistening liquid lapping up at the edge of a small boat ramp. She imagined dipping her feet into it as the sun reflected golden upon each new, fleeting crest. The snow of glaciers, the rain of stratospheric clouds, all gathering into a river … into a sea, a cloud, a rainstorm, an aquifer, a cup, a human being…
Melanie looked again at the humans gathered on this one little spot of Earth, looking with eyes refreshed by tears, tears that had evaporated into the air along with the sweat that oozed from her pores and those of every person there. What did their words matter? If she were a newborn, she wouldn’t even care what they meant, she would just hear buzzing and chipping, like bees in a field of wildflowers, grackles in the grass, or cicadas with their piercing, rising song.
Melanie breathed in deeply once more, this time noticing the savory scent of grilling hamburgers and the coconut tones of someone’s sunscreen. It was all so weird, in a way. So wonderfully weird and terribly beautiful … little ants quite certain that the trail and the hill are all that exist, little butterflies blown this way or that by the smallest puff of wind … and yet, when immersed within, each scent, gesture, and sound is intimately part of an inescapable, exquisite whole. The fallen leaf, hidden fish, and dreaming child are uniquely real, flowing from an eternal source into the universal course of life.
Melanie smiled. Then — with entire body, mind, heart, and soul — she jumped into the river of glory, submerged in sacred wonder, glad to be alive.
© 2022 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.