I think it’s obvious once you come to these chapters that this is what the whole book has been building up to. We have finally come through all the weeks of the Pascha season to the feast that James started talking about right at the beginning — Ascension Day. (Kind of strange to follow this action when we are in the weeks of Lent, making our way to Pascha. But hopefully, things still had that feeling of following the calendar of the Church a little bit.)
However, before we get to Ascension Day, there is the night before. And that is going to be a night that Vanessa will never forget. Going to the Angel Wings concert, hanging out backstage, she is nervous and feels as though she would like to see Mary out in the audience. But Mary isn’t there, and instead, a different kind of confidence begins to take over. Vanessa is energized by the idea of being onstage; she visualizes her shining moment and how fantastic she will be.
This kind of euphoria is legendary in our pop culture, which seems to regard all self-esteem as valuable. The image of the performer knocking everyone’s socks off has become a kind of modern-day trope — a symbol of all that is great and glorious in our shared humanity. But does anyone else think we take it a bit too far? I have watched shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent, and to hear the interviews of performers before they compete for the prize, you would think this was the most important moment of their entire lives. I ardently wish for each and every one of them that that would not turn out to be the case.
Maybe that’s why, at the critical moment when Vanessa goes onstage and her song is about to begin, I gave her a choice to make.
Vanessa saw her at last, as the applause began to die down. Standing out in the audience, by the stairs that led up to the stage. Standing with some sort of ill-fitting dress on and a hat that she had tied onto her head with string. Vanessa heard her, calling, “Here, dear! I’m here!” and waving both of her little arms over her head.
It’s Mary, looking ridiculous and bizarre, as she so often does. Mary, who really has no business at all being onstage, wanting with all her heart to get up and sing the song that she never got to sing. And it’s all up to Vanessa. Knowing what happened to Mary — the tragic chain of events that led to a life of suffering and poverty — Vanessa could just pretend she didn’t see Mary. There’s a good chance no one would ever know if she did.
This is the choice that Vanessa has — a chance for glory and success on one hand, and a chance to throw all that away and do the right thing on the other. She only has a moment to decide, and perhaps her decision will determine a little of the kind of person she will grow up to be. If so, there’s a chance that whatever her decision is, she won’t be able to go back and fix it, if she chooses the wrong thing.
I could ignore her. No one would ever know. All I have to do is begin my song, and it’ll all be over.
I can’t do that. I … can’t.
The decision was made in an instant, but it gave Vanessa the feeling almost of being torn in half. Without another word or thought, Vanessa smiled to Mary and extended her hand, and the little woman climbed the few steps with an effort.
Thank goodness Vanessa is such a lovely person. Not everyone would have been able to resist that temptation. Those of you who have read Queen Abigail the Wise know that Abigail had a moment of truth as well. In that case, I was able to draw a direct line to the teaching of the Church, and where it is that we draw this kind of strength from. In this case, it’s not quite so clear, but to me, it’s still certain that only in Jesus Christ can we find the courage to do the right thing, even when it will cost us dearly to do it.
Vanessa did the right thing. As a kind of reward for her efforts, she is allowed to see Mary off for the very last time. Sad as it is for Vanessa to hear, Mary won’t be returning — she is an old woman who has had a weary life. Vanessa would love if she got to find out a lot more about the holy woman, but Mary knows that her time with Vanessa is done.
“…You must love the Lord, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. You have heard this all your life?”
“Now you know,” Mary continued. “Do this and let nothing get in the way. You have your family and friends, and you have the Church. There is nothing else I can tell you.”
As we go forward in earnest to complete the days of Holy Week, I hope that that can sustain us as well. God sent His Son as an act of love. Christ died for us, in an act of love. Let us love God, and we will come to know Him truly.
Next time: Chapter 28: The new Miracle of the Geese