Sunday, February 5, 2012

I See Mary in a Garden

Sometimes people walk into our house and assume we are Catholic. Of course they would.  What non-Catholic living room contains so much Mary?

There is a large portrait of Mary praying in a garden
and small statue of a veiled Mary atop a bookcase.

Nearby a framed Madonna and child sits on a Moroccan style wine rack.

For over a year I found myself collecting all things Mary with no understanding why. After all, I'm not Catholic like those typically this passionate about their Mary collections. Then it hit me - I was under the spell of an archetype.

Any religious text, mythology, historical tale, or novel contains variations on themes that have played out across human history. Whether a story is literally true matters not because the message endures. Names, places, faces, and times may vary but the basic themes are timeless.

I like to recognize those broad motifs in my own life because this infuses my experiences, even the tragic, with meaning and mystery. It reminds me that I'm never the first or only person to go through anything, which is easy to forget in the thick of hardship. This has gotten me through some intimidating ventures, like the terrifying reality of childbirth. I thought of the tens of billions of women across the ages who proceeded me in giving birth, identified with their collective bravery, and became brave myself.

Then there's Mary. What is more tragic and joyous than watching your beloved son be tortured to death before your very eyes only to witness him ultimately risen to a glorious new life?

I came to identify metaphorically with Mary as a mother because my seven year old autistic son was slipping away from me. In constant pain from an undiagnosed 24/7 Petite Mal seizure disorder, his aggression was constant. He'd drag me across the floor by my hair one minute and hug me the next, until another seizure had him reaching again for hair to pull or arms to bite. Nobody had any answers and there was little reason to believe that would change.

During these bouts, my eyes would often focus on Mary and this gave me strength. I found these images centering because Mary and her beloved son, too, had been to the depths of despair. Not to imply that witnessing my child's deterioration, devastating as it was, is the same as Mary at the foot of that Cross, helplessly watching her son slowly die an excruciatingly painful death. But is there a more helpless feeling than watching your own child suffer, unable to stop it? Every mother decends into that personal hell sooner or later; it's just a matter of degree.

Since childhood I've had this way of imaginatively entering into objects, ideas, or images and experiencing them from the inside out. Though this happens non-verbally I emerge from these episodes somehow changed. And so it was with those Mary images. Over time they transmuted my desperation into an understanding that beyond a shadow of a doubt my son too would triumph over his suffering. This had no rational basis, especially since the doctors told us it was just the Autism and we'd have to learn to live with it. But I knew there was more to it and answers would come.

And those answers did come.

We learned that our son suffered from an undiagnosed seizure condition, possibly since infancy. Now that optimal medication levels have been achieved his development, which stalled for years, has taken off. He amazes us each day.

I've long suspected that my son sometimes reads my mind. Now I'm convinced. I wrote this post in my head as it coalesced around the line "I see Mary in a Garden" from Springsteen's song The Rising, but mentioned this to nobody. Imagine my surprise, then, when my boy walked up to me, leaned his elbows on my knees and asked with a big smile, "See Mary in a Garden?" With tear-filled gleaming eyes, I returned his grin and said, "Yes I do."

My son, too, is resurrected.


Update: 3/30/18

My son's early and middle childhood were continual bouts of his doing well and then regressing. He has always been verbal, but until the last few years speech was limited to short sentences. He was subsequently diagnosed with migraines, which was what caused much of his pain in the early years.  Migraine conditions in the functionally nonverbal are commonly missed since these individuals cannot explain what is causing them pain. Sadly, pain outbursts and self-injury from their migraines is often labeled "just behavioral" or "just the autism".

Now that his migraines and epilepsy are controlled with Cannabidiol Oil my son is happy 90% of the time. I no longer believe Autism itself has anything to do with his physical pain.

I share this for the same reason I have always shared the end results of his medical mysteries: what if information in our story holds a key for someone else? After her autistic son's aggression was labeled just behavioral, a local mom heard our story and insisted upon an EEG. Her son had undiagnosed epilepsy and behavioral problems reduced dramatically with treatment. 

We were only able to diagnose his migraines because my child was somewhat verbal and could offer clues. "Alex's head is humpty dumpty.", "My head exploded.", and "There is cake frosting in my head." The neurologist took it from there.        


  1. Beautiful thoughts, thank you for sharing your stories of your son. Thanks for linking up to NOBH!

  2. Such a heart-felt post -- I never had the privilege of reading your previous blog about your son, so I feel honored to hear you talk about him here. The archetype of Mary is a profound power for you, the symbolic parallel to your life incredible and healing -- ridiculously roundabout, but I watched a documentary, "I Am" on the Oprah channel, and a tiny segment of it talks about how we can tangibly measure how much of the element Argon fills our lungs with each breath, and how it is recycled into the atmosphere with each exhale, so essentially we could be breathing the very same Argon as Jesus or Martin Luther King. Or, say, Mother Mary. So you quite literally could be inhaling Mary's breath and strength at the exact moment you need it most... I, too, am convinced that my oldest son hears my thoughts, as he also brings up subjects, the timing of which is too uncanny to be chance... [I have tried to comment on other posts from my iPad, but I've noticed they never appeared... I'm on my downstairs computer, and I am going back to try again...] You are a beautiful soul, talented writer, and amazing mama... blessings, hazel

  3. Thank you so much for that. It was a definitely a mystical experience and I've learned to listen to those because they are always right. The key is keeping still enough amid chaos to recognize them. That's not so easy. But sometimes when life breaks me the miraculous seeps through the cracks and there's no real alternative but to pay attention. Thank you so much for the kind words. Blessings to you too.


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