In my house, Mary stands where the telephone should be.
It’s not that we don’t have a phone, because we do: a cordless one that my toddler loves to press to his ear as he walks around the house. But when our home was built, sixty-ish years ago, the architects added a little shelf that juts out of one of the hallway walls. They intended it for a telephone, but I’ve given it over to Mary.
The first time my husband and I saw our house, walking through it with our realtor nearly five and a half years ago, we had some strong first impressions. We liked the fact that the home had an extra little room to use as an office. We blanched at the horrifically ugly outdoor lean-to (long since dismantled by my husband). But one of the things I noticed right away was that little shelf in the hall, right outside the kitchen. I adored it on sight. It was charming and retro, two things that my own childhood home ( a much more modern structure) was not.
But most of all, I loved it because I could immediately see its potential. It would be the perfect place to display precious things.
At first, I kept a framed photo of my sister and I on the little shelf. It was a picture from our childhood, perhaps 1976 or so, a three-inch square photo whose colors were fading with age. It showed us dressed up, standing on the lawn, looking cherubic. I loved having the photo there rather than stashed in an album somewhere.
But the shelf was destined for other things.
As the months passed, Mary began to play an ever-growing role in my spiritual life. This happened for a variety of reasons, including the fact that over the space of a year, I suffered two excruciating pregnancy losses. Each loss felt like being kicked in the gut, but both of them ended up drawing me closer to Mary. Amazingly enough, I found myself writing a book about her – the last thing that I, a formerly lapsed Catholic, would ever have imagined doing. So I decided to devote the hallway shelf to her. It would be one way to acknowledge the prominent place that she was, amazingly, starting to occupy in my life.
And so a Mary shrine was born.
The focal point of the shrine is a small vintage statue of Mary, one that I bought on EBay. Mary is dark blonde, with very red lips. She holds her hands together in prayer. Small pink roses and tiny green leaves line the top of her veil. Mary’s eyes are framed by thin, very arched eyebrows. They’re the eyebrows of an old-school Hollywood glamour girl, not an impoverished young mother from Galilee.
In fact, nothing about the figurine is authentic: not the honey blonde hair, not the lipsticked mouth. It is nothing – and I mean nothing – how I imagine the real Mary to be. But I love it, that figurine. I’ve experimented with other Mary statues for the shrine, but I keep coming back to this one. She reminds me of freshness, of springtime. She’s the perfect size for the little shelf; even more, her age matches the house itself. She could have stood on that shelf fifty years ago, sharing the space with a rotary telephone. In fact, given that I bought her on EBay, with a history that will be forever a mystery, it’s theoretically possible that she did.
Next to her, I keep a small vase, which I fill with roses from the yard. Usually, I choose pink ones, huge, fragrant blooms that echo the china roses on her veil. Sometimes I mix them with red ones, creating a Valentine’s Day effect. Sometimes I bring the orange blooms from my most prolific rosebush. Their petals are shades of sunshine that darken outwards to fire. In the dim hallway, they seem to glow: part-flower, part candle.
And what do I do at this shrine? Other than refreshing the flowers, I don’t do much. I don’t come here to pray, probably because it’s such an inconvenient place to stop and meditate (how people used this shelf as a phone nook, I’ll never know). When I have time for quiet, personal prayer, I never do it in the center of the house, this narrow hallway where my son’s Matchbox cars mingle with the dust bunnies along the baseboard.
But I love having Mary here. I pass her thousands of times a day. I pass her carrying perilously full laundry baskets. I pass her with my arms full of toddler or baby. I pass her right before I pass my husband in the hallway, each of us going about the zillions of little tasks that make up family life. Sometimes I remember to be grateful for him, for my children and my home, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I walk past Mary and I hardly see her, so consumed am I with the daily grind of living.
But often I do see her. For a moment, she flashes upon my consciousness: a beautiful woman with flowers, praying, never changing. And for a split second, as I go my busy way, I remember Mary’s presence.
The architects of the house didn’t build the shelf with her in mind, but she’s perfectly at home there. I didn’t build my life with her in mind, either, but somehow she’s found a home with me, too. For a split second, the thought of her darts briefly into my mind, and I’m thankful that she’s there, smack in the middle of my hallway and home, in the center of all that I love most.
Copyright 2009 Ginny Kubitz Moyer