When I was a child and thought about World war two, the war my parents had endured, and the way the Jewish people had suddenly lost everything overnight it occurred to me nothing is permanent. You can work hard all your life to build something up, to create the illusion of security and then in a heartbeat it’s taken from you. Everything gone.
Vandals destroyed the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stood tall within a grotto built of stone in the garden at my old school Vaucluse. The vandals left intact the statue of Bernadette, a smaller figure in white, her hands clasped as she gazes up at Mary asking for help.
I walked past this grotto almost every day of the six years I attended my school and enjoyed the fact we had our own grotto. Our own slice of the history of Catholicism.
Every May we held a May Day Mass in honour of Mary, to emulate celebrations in Europe and springtime. For us the autumn.
Suddenly I want only to sleep, it’s cold in Melbourne were into our autumn on our way to winter and there we are celebrating the ascension into Heaven of Mary the mother of god. Flowers and ribbons and songs run through my head.
Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the angels and queen of the May…
Songs like ear worms on my heard.
Oh Queen of the holy rosary
Oh bless us as we pray
And offer you our roses in garlands day by day.
I sang these songs by rote and paid scant attention to the meaning of the words. The music and rhythm, the sound that came from my mouth, the sound that came into my ears from the voices of other girls, all of us lined up in twos with a candle in hand and unlit on our way to the grotto to join Bernadette on her knees to sing a song of devotion to a woman I thought of as beautiful and slightly impossible.
The idea of the immaculate conception troubled me. As a child I could not understand how she could have a baby inside without someone putting oi there. And that God put it there simply because he wanted or that an angel or some other dignitary from on high popped down from Heaven and put it there seemed dangerous like it could happen to any of us girls.