When I first met Mary, she was a four year old with heavy glasses and a bowlcut, with no greater wish than to have a captive audience for her dramatic reenactments of her favorite movie scenes, book chapters, and family episodes (her eccentric father was a particular favorite of hers to parody).
This little girl, the seventh of eight children, and not one to fall into the crowd or be overlooked, sat my teenage self down and unasked, acted out the entire Disney Cinderella movie using only the mice and the cat as speaking parts. What use were pretty Cinderella or her one-dimensional ugly step-sisers? The real drama was in the lives of the mice, and their antagonistic relationship with the evil cat Lucifer. Some portions were word for word, some complete innovations of little Mary's, all uttered with thorough and total sincerity and concentration. Energetic, brilliant.
|Mary always has to be serious|
And she's still the same. Fourteen years later, she can still transfix you with the acute attention to detail and original observation that comes from being Mary. But instead of Cinderella's mice, it is more usually a Thomistic question of the intellectualism of the Angelic Host, and in what way their movements can draw the movements of our own mediocre hearts.
Sound interesting? It is.
This is the girl I went to visit in Rome, longtime friend of my soul. Misfit, rambunctious girl, Mary wasn't one for sitting still as a wee one. Parents, siblings, teachers, everyone saw her brightness, everyone saw she was not to be controlled, never to be conformed. Yeah, that makes for interesting discipline.
But fortunately for this wild one, she is a favorite of the angels, heaped with blessings both physical and spiritual, along with that unbroken nature.
Mary was never anything but interesting to me, a teenager not in charge of keeping her under control or on task, and I treasured the moments I could come up with stories that would captivate her imagination. I loved telling her intricate tales, visually seeing the action taking place in that vivid mind. She was that kind of listener who spurs the speaker forth, gives you fuel to tell better stories, eager to earn her appreciation. I remember her big, bright eyes listening opened mouthed while I retold O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." After quietly reflecting, Mary concluded, "Maybe they are both wise, but the girl is wiser. Her hair will grow back, but his watch won't."
|My pic of Mary in front of a famous Roman aqueduct|
was rudely photobombed by a roving wedding couple
It was that thirst for story, thirst for life, that would take Mary away from her family's home in the Midwest after her Sophomore year in high school, never to return on a full time basis. Some older friends of hers, likewise adventurers, had found an opportunity to work in a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand.
And off she went.
You don't think you would let your 16 year-old daughter skip her Junior year to teach English, unchaperoned in Thailand? Your daughter isn't Mary.
Although an astounding adventure for a young girl, her time there was a few short months, but the gift of feeling that the world is so large, so interesting, and so accessible opened up to her, feeding that interior restlessness. She returned home for Christmas, shortly after the 9-11 tragedy, hoping for a speedy return to being in the meat of life.
Not to happen, sending a young girl off herself with all the new international restrictions following the devastation. Not to a country of unrest like Thailand.
But hey, what about Bosnia? That sounds much more reasonable.
After cooling her heals in Indiana for a couple months, her restless need to fill this deep pit of purpose overcame her, and she took the opportunity (with her parents' blessing) to have an extended pilgrimage in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her rest there wouldn't last long as God himself put something into her hands that would require more of her than her brilliant mind and fitful energy: a newborn baby.
Not her own!
While Mary was on her pilgrimage, and asking for direction and purpose in this life, a local mother experienced a fatal brain aneurysm while 9 months pregnant. The baby, Ante, was born by C-section immediately following her death. Ante's father, a taxi driver, already had a house full of children to look after, now without a wife. Through word of mouth, people of goodwill heard of the smart, capable and willing American girl Mary, and it was decided that she would be Ante's full time caregiver, living and working with him in the local orphanage, run by nuns.
So my Mary, just a few years ago a little wild one with bright eyes and a run-on-tongue, would stay to live in an orphanage in a country far from home, with little to no knowledge of the language, the primary caregiver of a newborn Croatian child.
In our American society, at age sixteen, we would deem that Mary herself needed a full time caregiver, and at the very least a modern education, having only completed the tenth grade. But with an almost untoward eagerness and sense of belonging did this girl give her whole teenage life over to the task that was offered her, a total gift of self.
How would she do? More to come.