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“For the first time, I’ve seen his face—from yesterday’s ultra-sound,” she said, rushing into my kitchen, deep laughter roiling her three-trimester belly. Her brown eyes fired like sparklers on a hot summer night as she pointed to the films on the counter. “Look, there’s his nose, somewhat squished, but there it is. His eyes, blinking…” Then knowing hands smoothed her unborn son beneath her grey T-shirt, a loving gesture I’d experienced the last five months of receiving her help. “And just three more weeks until his due date—time for him to practice using his body before delivery. He’s all there.”

It had been an unusual five months of sharing, a vital learning experience for me. Never had I been so close to a pregnant woman as her unborn baby developed. And my helper, was also a registered nurse. Cheerfulness ballooned her spirit and countered anxiety, belly-kicks and sleepless nights, dietary changes, hydration, awkwardness, and diminished energy. Her long brunette ponytail was tied up in a knot as she prepared and served meals, looked after my bungalow, and took phone messages.

However, last night’s significant contractions warranted a trip to the hospital. My prayer for her safe delivery and son filled the night, only to be upended by this morning’s call. “I was only seven centimeters, so they sent me home. I hope to go back soon.”—Certainly a major reversal, but no complaints.

It seems to me that Hezekiah wants to see his laughing mother’s face. He will come.

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.

 

 

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