Friday, November 16, 2012

A Poignant Mother's Story My Review of "The Testament of Mary"

I can't remember the last time I was so affected by an author's words.     It has been a long time since I have been profoundly moved enough by a writer's story that I was brought to tears.  I'm not sure I have ever felt such a strong connection to a protagonist.
I am not a religious person, quite the opposite, actually.  My childhood teachings were of the Catholic variety. At six, I was taught the words of the catechism by rote.    It is my opinion that I did not really learn enough to gain an understanding or even acceptance of faith.  After all, at the time, the Mass was mysteriously said in Latin.
We were not exposed to the bible in the same way that other religions teach it.   Therefore, I can not quote a single passage nor can I reference a chapter or verse.
I was, of course, told of two of the most commonly related stories;  the stories of Christmas and Easter.   These stories, told to me as a child, became intertwined in my mind with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.
Then I became old enough to understand that Jolly Ole Saint Nick and Peter Cottontail were un-believable.
Then life happened and I became old and perhaps that's when I began to wonder if Christmas and Easter were also un-believable.
On Sunday, as I was reading the November 9, NY Times Book Review section, the review of "The Testatment of Mary" by Colm Toibin grabbed my attention.   The title of the review was Blessed Among Woman, the reviewer was Mary Gordon.   After reading Gordon's excellent review, I had to have the book.
The story of this short 80 page Novella is told by Mary in a first person narrative as she reflects on her life, the relationship she had with her son,  her passionate recollection of the events leading up to his death and her heart wrenching description of his crucifixion.
As I began to read, my emotional response was immediate.   After only a few sentences I was drawn to Toibin's Mary and developed an undeniable connection, as only one mother who has lost her son has to another mother who has also lost her son.
This Mary was old, near the end of her life. She was old enough to have had so much life happen that she feels she does not need to sleep or dream because...
 "Before the final rest comes this long awakening.  And it is enough for me to know that it will end."
I feel that this story will touch anyone who has mothered.  She talks about letting go of her son as he goes out into the world to make his own way.
"It was simple really--he could not have stayed.  I asked him nothing; I knew that he would easily find work and I knew he would send what the others who had gone before him sent,  Just as I wrapped for him what he would need as the other mothers did whose sons were leaving."
Mary has also experienced widowhood.  She muses about a certain chair that she has symbolically designated for her lost love.
"I keep the chair in the room because he will not come back.  I do not need to keep food for him, or water, or a place in my bed, or whatever news could gather that  might interest him.  I keep the chair empty."
Tobibin tells the tale simply, simply beautifully.  His lyrical writing conjured up vivid images for me.

I tasted, and smelled, and most importantly I was deeply touched.
I have a favorite passage.  One that was written just for me, or so I like to believe.   It is one that clutched my heart, brought immediate tears to my eyes and percolated my grief so that it bubbled back up to the surface.  This mother's grief that I try so hard to ignore and keep hidden is a grief  that, as I neared the end of the story, I came to realize is one that I share with this Mother of so long ago.
There are many beautifully written passages in this book that I want to remember.  I would like to quote each and everyone here.  But I want you to be able to taste and smell and feel each one for the first time.
Mother Mary's story is told in such a way that it made me wonder and speculate and finally believe that it could have actually, quite possibly happened this way.

I have created a page for Anna's Diary.  It can be found under the Tab titled Anna's Diary.
I have posted all of the entries to date there, starting with January 1, 1929.

Here are the last few entries  from Anna's diary:
Thurs.  November 14, 1929
Brought Junior to the dentist for the first time.  At first he was a little frightened but we talked it out of him.  Filled on tooth.  He was very brave at the drilling, the dear.
Friday, November 15, 1929
Home all day.  Phone rang about 4:30.  I was Bill home from Princeton for the week end.  Wanted to see Baby & I  Went over for supper.  Played bridge afterwards until Jean came from school.
Sat. November 16, 1929
Jean  home for lunch.  Dressed then brought Junior to 360 and went down town to change hat for Lean who is very sick.  Bill & Rosalie for supper here.  Jean went to party at Pegs.  She stayed at 360.


  1. Very touching. I am looking forward to checking out the book.

    1. The book touched me on many levels. The author humanized each of the characters in a very relatable way.

  2. I can so identify with every word that you wrote considering being raised a Catholic. By the time I was seventeen, I had the system down pat. I would swing past the church to pick up the weekly bulletin, before heading to the car wash, to wash and wax my '64 Nova.

  3. That was a pretty neat trick you pulled off there. I separated from the church after the priest from my local parish refused to co-officiate with a Protestant minister at my wedding.
    So my first husband and I married in his church instead.

  4. Ah, tales of Catholic upbringing.... I think I was far more damaged by the CC than nurtured by it, I would NEVER have even considered reading this book except for this recommendation. I have the greatest respect for you, Lynda , and it you are recommending it, I want to check it out.

  5. Lynda Grace, I am so looking forward to reading this book. I know that it took a lot of pain for me to find and establish my own relationship with God. I never had a personal relationship with God as I knew him from my religious upbringing. Thinking about you on during the holidays.