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Oh mother! You should go out and see!
There’s never been such a sky.

…………………………………………………..

Hanging over our roof,
there is a star as large as a window;
and the star has a tail, and it moves
across the sky like a chariot on fire.

So sings Amahl, the crippled boy, to his widowed mother in the opening scene of Gian Carlo-Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951). The star sets this one-act opera into motion: it fires the boy’s imagination and dramatically alters his mother’s impoverished world; and it compels Three Kings to abandon their charts in foreign lands and seek shelter from winter’s cold in the widow’s hut.

As the story unfolds, we learn from Melchior about another child, the one they seek,

 

the color of wheat…
the color of dawn
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king
– as king he was born.

Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side;
and the eastern star is our guide.

 I, too, am looking for the Child. I, too, follow the crystal star, one day/night at a time.

Within its scintillation appears the guidance I seek, now that my terminal illness seems to be at a standstill: new limits form the boundaries of my known world. But in the in betweenness of things, change is happening. That, I do know. Like Amahl’s and his mother’s ongoing transformation, I remain content, my trust fixed upon the night sky for the next suggestion.

 

Winter’s dark shrouded St. Meinrad Archabbey Church and chilled its cruciform interior where I stood huddling in the shadows, with others. It was 1984, Advent, southern Indiana. Black-robed Benedictines had chanted the hour of Compline from their stalls, stashed away their Office books, then processed toward a side altar illumined by thick beeswax candles. Here stood a carved statue of the Black Madonna and Child, a replica of the one in Einsiedein, Switzerland, from which this foundation had been made in 1854. Before retiring, the monks always bade her good night—they were her faithful sons.

 

 

Strains of the eleventh-century antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater, sweetened the air, our hearts quickening with hope. Here was the crux of the Christmas mysteries we would shortly celebrate.

Then it was over. Everyone scattered within the shadows as I returned to the Guest House, still marveling at the experience. Clearly, this Madonna, also called the Gateway to Heaven and Star of the Sea, had power to help “…the fallen people striving to rise.” With my arthritic knees, I was among them.

Her presence continues heartening me during my end-time. When stung by fears, I ask her to wrap me within the folds of her copious mantle, then cling to her. Arms entwined, we hug and breathe in the darkness. The madness does leave, slowly.

 

 

A ceramic vase of blush orchids still suns upon the worktable in my study. I often gaze at this flowering beauty while pausing for the precise word to enter my word processor. I also remember the giver of this gift, my MAC tutor for eighteen years.

It was time for our hour and her expertise. But that afternoon she looked different: her eyes, rimmed with grief; her mouth, slack and drawn; her posture, a bit stooped; her speech, flat and rushed.

“Hi, Liz. I picked this up for you—at Trader’s Joe,” she said handing me the orchids, protected from November’s chill by a cellophane sleeve. Also got one for myself.” As she pulled off her jacket, she added, “Have I got a story for you. Let’s go to your study.”

And her story did unfold: her ninety-seven-year old mother’s ribs broken from a fall, her hospitalization and rehab, hospice, and her recent passing—all within several weeks. My friend had been there, the story still evoking fresh tears and angst. We hugged.

Because I was still reeling from the hospice sign-up, I more than welcomed my friend’s story. It wasn’t about me, so I told myself. In subsequent weeks, I’ve peeked around the edges of my mortality, gaped at its enormity: Just as the thirteen blossoms of my orchid plants will wither and die, so, too, will my body—in time.

Then I checked my watch for the next whatever and tended to it.

 

 

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