Though we sent her a card the other day, my husband just called his aunt to wish her a happy birthday. As I listened to Mike’s end of their conversation, I imagined Aunt Yola’s face, animated as ever, as she reported the latest family news. I remembered many a call to Aunt Yola over the years. She and Mike’s Uncle Frank embraced me as their own from the day we met. The phone calls have gone back and forth ever since.
In the beginning, forty years ago to be precise, Aunt Yola and Uncle Franks’ daughter, Mary, answered the phone for her parents. Mary sped past them, anticipating another opportunity to announce a caller. Mary was a master of voice recognition, and she correctly identified anyone she had heard over the phone at least once. As soon as she heard the “Hello,” Mary called, “It’s Aunt Jennie,” or “It’s Michael,” or “It’s Mary Ellen,” or “It’s Theresa!” How did she do it?
When Mike and I were engaged, I asked if Mary could join my niece in serving as a flower girl for our wedding. Mary exuded life, and she lifted the spirits of everyone in her proximity. She would certainly have stolen the show that day, but who would have minded? Unfortunately, a full day of celebration would have been too much for Mike’s little cousin. Mary endured poor health since birth. She had a weak heart and many of the other symptoms that accompanied Down’s Syndrome fifty years ago.
Mary had been critically ill several times, and Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola were completely devoted to her. Mary’s doctor and the rest of us agree that it was their tireless and loving care that kept Mary with us for so long. As it happened, Mary attended our wedding and then spent the rest of the day with her aunt. She did leave her mark on the ceremony with her sweet announcement, “Here comes Mary Ellen!” as my dad escorted me down the aisle.
Mary welcomed our older son, Mike, into the family, and she brightened our family gatherings. Mary also frightened us a few times with threatening illnesses and hospital stays. When a call eventually announced that Mary would be going home, a collective sigh rose from family members near and far. As different as their lives had been from the expected, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank thanked God with all their hearts every time their little girl recovered. Mary would be a difficult little lady to live without. She read very well and enjoyed math, and Mary’s belief in Santa and her devotion to Jesus remained for her entire life. Though she endured the onset of puberty, her innocence brought a peace to her home that is rare among families these days. Though her parents moved toward middle age, their forever little girl kept them very young.
When Mary was twenty-two, she entered the hospital one last time. Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola alerted us that the dreaded cold that threatened to develop into “something too strong to fight” had arrived. They knew Mary very well, and they noticed even the smallest changes in her energy level. Mary had been weakening for a while. Sadly, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank also knew the likely outcome.
With those she loved at her bedside, Mary drifted in and out of a peaceful sleep. When she woke for a few minutes, Mary told Aunt Yola that she was going to see Jesus “pretty soon.” Not much later, Mary drifted off to the sleep that would be her last. Afterward, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank, Mary’s sister and her brother-in-law shed many a tear. Yet, when we went to their home to sit with them and offer our sympathy, all they could talk about was Mary’s joy over being with Jesus. All they could talk about were the things Mary knew now that she had never known before. All they could talk about was how special Mary was and how Jesus had greeted their Little Mary with open arms.
I share this story with you because the miracle that was Mary’s life reflects the spirit of the miracles Jesus performs in Mark’s gospel (Mark 5:21-43). With great faith in God’s kindness, Jairus goes to Jesus to seek his daughter’s cure. With great faith in God’s compassion, the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ cloak, knowing that this will be enough to make her well. With great faith in God’s promises, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank filled Mary’s life with love. With the great faith her parent’s shared with her, Mary recognized the Jesus who would take her home. Though not as dramatic as the miracles in today’s gospel, Mary’s life is miraculous just the same. Two ordinary people allowed God to work through them to give a very sick little girl twenty-two years among us. Imagine the miracles God plans to work through you and me!
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved