The swimming instructor called for us to do the positions we had learned. She asked us to lay on our backs in the water. I was very happy on my back. I kicked hard and happily thought about how fast I was going – maybe faster than the others.
It turns out I was definitely faster than the others. We had been called to lay our on our backs in the water and just float. I had made a mistake.
I don’t know how old I was in this memory from my childhood. Pretty young. I was surprised to find myself remembering it so vividly while sitting in the chapel after Mass. It occurred to me that I have been struggling lately with feelings that perfectly matched the experience of this memory decades ago.
I found out I had made a mistake on the kicking because the person who had taken me to the lesson was livid. I received repeated physical punishments after the lesson.
It seems that others had made fun of me. I was told I should be ashamed, that I was stupid and that I embarrassed everyone. Years later, there are no physical scars, but there are emotional ones. I still agonize over what to do in a situation, never quite able to trust that I’m doing the right thing even if I felt happy with my original choice. To be called foolish and to be embarrassed is to be beaten in mind and spirit, even if only because I can’t forgive myself.
Coming back to an awareness that I was in a chapel and not at the pool, I looked at the Blessed Sacrament and asked the Lord to show me mercy. Where was mercy in this case of mercilessness? I made an honest mistake and was treated severely. And now I have trouble trusting in mercy. I begged the Lord to come into that decades old story and show me His mercy.
As I sat, I had a sense that my Mother was calling. It was my Heavenly Mother – Mary. I’m very humbled and amazed for the gift that I sometimes sense her in prayer.
“Norine,” she said, “it’s time for your swimming lesson.”
“I don’t want to go,” I told her. “I’m never going back there again. I’m never swimming again.”
“Come on,” she said. “I packed you an apple.” And I sensed that she was taking me.
It occurred to me that I have never imagined Mary at the pool. She is rarely depicted without a veil, much less without her tunic and mantle. She is certainly never depicted in a swimsuit. “Mary is immaculate,” I thought. “Can she even get wet? She probably repels water.”
“How can you swim with all these clothes?” I asked.
“I’m the Star of the Sea,” she said.
And then I thought of her clothing. We say in Catholicism, “May you stay under Mary’s mantle.” It’s a prayer of protection. Her clothing protects us. I wear the Brown Scapular for exactly that reason. “Can I swim under her mantle?” I wondered.
And then my image of the pool immediately faded for another scene. We were at the foot of the Cross. Mary stood beneath her Son and the crowd jeered in the same way I had been abused by others at the pool: “You should be ashamed! What a fool! You’re so stupid! You embarrassed everyone!”
Mary, at the Cross, was silent. Her Son had not made any mistakes at all. He executed His mission perfectly, in exact obedience to His Father. And Jesus, looking entirely to the crowd like a shameful criminal, was taking away the shame of our crimes. Mary, her loving eyes on Jesus, said nothing.
She endured every insult and covered her naked Son with her strength. She shielded Him, knowing His true identity, her true identity, and never absorbing the verbal beating of the crowd. She gave it directly to the Father.
I burst into sobs, experiencing the way she heard the insults against Jesus. What excruciating pain! Sitting beneath a stained-glass window of Our Lady of Sorrows, I had a vivid experience of how the sword pierced her heart. And what perfect love to stand by Him in restraint, reminding Him of who He really is.
All of a sudden, she was with me at the pool. Whatever was said about my mistake, she took to the Father. She didn’t pass it to me, she didn’t absorb it. She reminded me of my true identity as Beloved Daughter, sent these insults to the Father and shielded me. She does the same for all of us in our moments of shame.
I sat in the chapel for a long time in stunned silence. It turns out, you really can swim under Mary’s mantle.
“If I were to meet those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian today.” -Saint Josephine Bakhita
A prayer for the healing of memories
Holy Trinity, You have been with us since the moment of our creation. But sin in our lives and in the lives of others have left their mark in many wounds, forming sandy foundations for our negative thoughts and poor patterns of behavior in the future. Lord God, hold our hands and come with us into these wounded places. Please show Your mercy to us, to those who hurt us and to those we’ve hurt. Give us courage to go back into these painful memories so You can bring your healing. You are outside of time and have power over every evil – nothing is impossible for You. Let Your mercy be the firm foundation from which we bear abundant fruit. In Jesus’ name and through the intercession of Holy Mother, Amen.