There are two movies that have made me cry like a baby in public: Sophie's Choice, and Mel Gibson's version of The Passion of the Christ. They hit a chord in me as a mother. In Sophie's Choice, a Polish, Catholic woman is sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII with her two children. She is forced by a Nazi doctor to choose which one will live and which one will die. The children, a little girl and a little boy, are screaming "Mama!" and crying. Sophie, played by Meryl Streep, is mentally tortured for the remainder of the film over the decision and her inability to forgive herself. The movie is based on a novel written in 1979 by William Styron. The Passion of the Christ portrays Jesus' journey to Crucifixion. The whole movie is difficult, but important in my opinion, to watch. The part that always tears me up is when Jesus meets his mother while carrying the cross. In the movie, Mary flashes back in her mind to a memory of Jesus falling and getting hurt as a child. She cannot protect her son this time. As a mother, I'm gripped and frightened by both of these womens' experiences.
Becoming a mother has changed me a bit. Never before have I felt so fiercely protective of another human being. My children, although they drive me insane because they are so needy, are like walking versions of my heart. My heart is raw and exposed to the dangerous world three times over. This is scary.
Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, is a role model/helper to all mothers, and all of God's children for that matter. As a Catholic, this is my belief. Her reaction to the torture and death of her son is hard for me to fully believe, until I read the scripture more closely. What I realize in the middle of reading The Gospel of Matthew is that the apple does not fall far from the tree, as they say. Mary was Jesus' first teacher, Jesus was her greatest teacher. This is the duty of all mothers, to teach their children about their faith. Mary's faith was radical, but no one noticed in that society because she was a woman.
Turn the other cheek? If someone was torturing my children I'd be like a raging lion. Yes, sweet, soft-spoken Loren can get quite scary when she chooses to do so. I can see myself dying to prevent harm to my children without thinking twice about it. Pray for your enemies? Really? Forgive me, I think I might rip them apart in that case.
Imagine the grace required to hold yourself back from hysteria, as Mary did, while watching your children harmed. Imagine the faith and FORESIGHT present in a person who can trust God through such a trial. I hope that life test is never put on my plate. I'm not strong enough.
When I was a freshman in college, Sr. Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking came to my campus to give a talk on Capital Punishment. If you have read her book/seen the movie, then you know that she is against the death penalty and has worked in prisons as a spiritual counselor to some of the most horrid criminals: murderers, rapists, child abusers.
On a table to the right of the stage was a contract that she invited those in attendance to take and fill out. It was a legal document stating that in the event of your own murder, you would not want the accused and convicted person to be sentenced to the death penalty. Sr. Prejean's speech moved me. I walked up to the table, took the contract and went back to my seat to fill it out. Many other people were doing this too. Then something stopped me. I thought of my mother and father, (I was unmarried at the time), suffering because of my murder. I pictured the crime that could involve torture and rape. Walking to the student lounge, I crumpled up the contract and threw it in the garbage, with tears in my eyes. I was sad because I knew I might not have the capacity to forgive someone who hurts and kills me, and I call myself pro-life. I didn't want to take the free choice of forgiveness away from my family in that case. I thought, It's easier to forgive murderers when the crime doesn't affect you personally. I hope life never puts this test on my plate.
Christians are taught: forgive, don't hold onto anger, pray for your enemies. As a Catholic, I give myself a "D" on these life tests thus far. I grumble while praying for those who annoy the stuffing out of me. I get mad at strangers, acquaintances, my friends, my spouse, basically EVERYBODY, and hold on to the anger sometimes. From what I've read of Mary in The New Testament, she lived up to these forgiveness challenges. So I should be able to forgive people who hurt my feelings, reject me, etc. in the very least! I need to do this as a person who calls herself a Catholic. I need to do this as a mother, as a role model. I'm a role model whether I like it or not. I'm going to try to forgive more. I can't skip ahead to the really hard trials, but I can handle the small everyday interactions with people and work my way up to the bigger hurts.
With the commitment to try to forgive comes a sense of peace. Holding on to anger not only gives me a bad grade in the faith department, it makes me sick physically, mentally, spiritually. I don't have to carry all that invisible weight around. I don't have to let these feelings chew on my brain.
What happens to me when I refuse to stay angry, when I actively try to forgive? Then I anger other people who don't understand why I'm acting so differently, so "righteous," so boring. That's their issue, and I have to pray that they will understand. I'm not going to stop trying because I know I can do better than a "D."