The beautiful white statue of the Blessed Mother still sits on a quaint little shelf in my mother’s bedroom. The statue is very special to my mom for a number of reasons, most importantly for what it represents to her regarding her strong love for Mary. Second, the statue was a gift from my father, who brought it home for her early in their marriage. He bought in Germany on one of his many trips overseas while serving in the Merchant Marines. The statue also helps my mother keep her priorities in order, with faith and family being at the top of the list.
And even though my mother is 91 years old and still has many religious items in her home, there is another very important reason why this particular religious article is so near and dear to her heart. The statue emerged unscathed after our Jersey City, New Jersey, apartment complex suffered a massive gas explosion in the early 1960s. We went to bed as usual. And we woke up to half of the building in the street. Destruction was everywhere and spread over a territory of several blocks. It was a long time ago, but I still have some images that remain of my father carrying me in his arms as we walked over piles of rubble. When my parents were allowed to return to the scene to inspect the damage, they both noticed how the white statue was not only perfectly intact without any chips or scratches, but it also wasn’t found on top of debris scattered on the ground. It was actually still sitting there on the shelf, unmoved by the powerful blast — a blast that took the lives of the landlord and his wife. The shelf was attached to the one wall that remained in our former home. We spent the next few months staying with relatives before finding another place to live.
My mom’s statue came to mind as I was covering the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey. I came across the touching story of a Catholic family in the Houston area, returning to what was once their much-loved residence, going through the same motions my own family did years ago on a hot summer day, hoping to recover some of their possessions. And while what we went through some five-plus decades ago hardly compares to the devastating scenes in Texas, there is an emotional connection and, on some level, an understanding of the challenges ahead for any of us who have suffered from unexpected and great loss. There is the initial shock of the tragedy itself. Then the reality of the magnitude is felt, followed by an attempt to regroup and start over, which often begins with collecting, if possible, some physical memories of the past. And all along the way, you look for signs of hope. You rely on relatives, friends, even strangers — as we did, and as others do when tragedy strikes. And if you’re a person of faith, you look for God to send you reminders of his presence.
As Catholics, we know that God works through his Communion of Saints, with Mary, leading that heavenly charge. That’s why my heart skipped a beat when I watched the news report of what that family discovered on their property. A large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was there in one complete piece and standing upright in the middle of what was left of their home. One of the family members also showed the TV reporter the smaller statue of Mary she found there; it was still in one piece. The young woman then explained that these were signs that she and her family weren’t alone. She also reminded everyone of what my mom thinks of every time she passes that lovely white statue in her room: that God is still in charge, and death and destruction, no matter what forms they take, will not have the last word. God’s love and our love for each other win in the end.
This column first appeared on OSV Newsweekly. To read Teresa’s latest OSV columns click here.