Our Friend Mary

This probably will sound tacky coming from a nun, but I’ve always wanted to do a retreat based on the bumper sticker “Shit Happens”. Needless to say, the few Sisters to whom I proposed this idea when I first thought about it some fifteen years ago were not amused. But I think there is a huge truth in that sticker. Horrible things happen to people who, no matter what skeletons may lurk in their historical closets, don’t deserve it.

Our Community has a wonderful friend who has visited us for years when the New York Marathon happens. She runs it. This has always fascinated me, who has run one mile once in my entire life and I still think of it as a major achievement. But our friend Mary runs twenty-six miles, and she does it every year. God knows how many miles she runs in between the marathons.

Mary is a lot more than a runner, of course. She is a physical therapist, a gentle woman, a good soul. Before I moved north I always looked forward to marathon time, just to have her quiet, solid presence in the house.

Now she is caught in medical hell betwen two diagnoses, neither of which is particularly hopeful. Both involve the degeneration of her muscles. I’m angry, and I’m sad, and I’m scared for her.

I don’t believe in a God who picks and chooses people to punish or reward. And I for sure don’t believe in a God who is capricious and mean. But Mary’s situation seems particularly cruel to me, and I want to blame Someone.

I’ll never forget the year when the weather for the race was beastly — freezing cold rain fell all day. Many runners dropped out because the conditions were so brutal, but Mary hung in there and finished. She didn’t, and probably never will, come in first. Winning isn’t the point at all, it is just getting it done. Trying something difficult and finding out you can do it. It is getting through the hard stuff, the hills, the sleet, the feeling that you can’t take one more step.

But you do.

I guess Mary’s going to need all that experience and self-knowledge over the next weeks and months. The marathon’s grueling one-step-at-a-time training has become the basis for the one-day-at-a-time life she has been thrust into. The sparks of grit and determination and present moment awareness and trust that live deep within Mary will continue to guide and strengthen her.

So yes, “shit happens”. It pays no attention to the person or the circumstance or anything else. It just happens. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it doesn’t rule the day all by itself.

Thank God for Mary and for marathons and for freezing rain. Thank God for resilience and friends and hope and love.

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