Mary Ellen Hayward lives in Co. Derry. She started writing to help fill the gap after her youngest child left home for university. Inspired by the landscape and the people around her, she writes poetry and flash fiction. Her first collection of short stories, ‘From Glen to Glen’ was published in 2010. Some of her poems have been published in anthologies within Ireland and UK.
By Mary Ellen Hayward
I sit here in the shade of the ancient myrtle tree, my hands idle. The wind blows dust into little eddies. My eyes blur with tears. My body is an empty shell. I do not know anything any more. I feel like joining the mad woman who screams and wails outside the walls of the synagogue. Oh to be a girl again stitching the veils for the temple!
Perhaps I am a bit gone in the head. Did the angel Gabriel really appear to me and speak of my destiny to be the mother of the Messiah? Or was it the evil one playing to my simplemindness? I see him again in my mind’s eye standing in the sunlight at the open door. Just a couple of minutes. No more. Was it just a daydream? And Joseph so kind and holy, never for one minute, doubting that dreams were messages from God. I miss his wisdom and care. There was so much trouble at that time too with the Roman soldiers as well as bandits. And always talk of deliverance. Every month there was talk of a Messiah.
After the angel’s visit there were rumours aplenty about me. And about Joseph as well. The strangest thing was the visit of the wise men. They had no doubts about the identity of my baby. They saw him as a king. What joy filled my heart! I felt blessed. Then all that trouble when Herod, not happy with killing men, turned to the infants. As usual Joseph took charge. It was a fearsome time but also exciting with the whole family together always on the move. We made quite a train. We kept our spirits up by singing psalms and telling stories from the Holy Scriptures around the fires at night. The countryside was always changing.
I could hardly believe my eyes when we arrived in Alexandria. Such a bustling city. So much noise! The ships in the harbour were a sight to see. The smells of the spices. Buildings going up everywhere. Joseph was right. They was plenty of work here for him, his sons and my brother’s family too and all the uncles and cousins. We soon settled down to an easier life. There were markets where we bought exotic fruit and vegetables. The women didn’t miss the digging and hoeing of the parched Nazareth soil. But best of all we were safe. The Roman soldiers never bothered us. They worshipped in their temples and we were allowed our synagogues. Jesus was happy growing up with his siblings and cousins and getting a wonderful education. It was truly a blessed time.
I would have been glad to stay there after old King Herod died but Joseph was keen to get back to Nazareth. What a time to return! There was murder and mayhem almost everywhere. Hundreds of Jews had been crucified in the neighbouring town, Seppohrais; the young men always ready to fight. My son grew up with Joseph’s older children and learned his trade as a craftsman. But he kept to himself a lot, not interested in politics or women. I would have liked him to marry but He kept His own counsel. There were the inevitable taunts and innuendos. Sometimes He was a great puzzle to me.
It was when He met his cousin John again that I seemed to loose Him completely. He didn’t go to work any more but was walking all over the country teaching. Sometimes He would just disappear for days on end. Always away on His own in the dessert, coming back gaunt and dishevelled. I did not like to question Him. In my heart I knew that He had to have peace and quiet to get His head together. Crowds followed Him everywhere. There was talk of miracles. But talk of miracles always followed a prophet. The only miracle that I saw was when He turned water into good red wine at a family wedding. All through His life there had been unexplained incidences that even He did not understand. The chief priests were often at odds with Him. It seemed that everyone wanted a bit of Him for their own purposes.
On Friday my whole world fell apart. The angel had called me blessed, telling me that I had found favour with God. Is it a blessed thing to watch your perfect and only son crucified like a common brigand? To stand there and watch as the life that I had so willingly given Him seeped from his body? He, the gentlest, the kindest of all men who spoke only of love and God. Yet again, I was given the great honour of being His mother. I don’t know what to think any more. There’s talk of strange things that happened yesterday: that the veils of the temple ripped, that the dead walked the earth. In truth, I was barely aware of the thunderstorm that struck when He took His last breath. All the time I expected God the Father to intervene, to save His son and mine.
But I must accept all these things that I don’t understand. God’s ways are not our ways. I need to repent of these doubts before I go to bed, to become reconciled with the Father. I just cannot face going to the tomb at dawn tomorrow, as is our custom. God has given me great supporters in Mary of Magduala and Mary, the mother of James. They will go in my stead. With the support of my kin and the Lord God Almighty, I hope to find a way to accept His will. This is what my son would have wanted.