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A Mother’s Commitment: Inspired by Dorothy Day and a Hurting Mother


Dorothy Day and Her Grandchildren

A mother’s path of selfless loving and caring for others could lead to true spiritual heights, Dorothy Day observed in her journal in 1948. She was staying in the West Virginia farm house of her daughter Tamar, who was expecting her third child. Dorothy had come to help care for the house and her two young grandchildren.

In the chaos of farm and family life, she remarked on finding little time for prayer, for self, for comfort. The harsh demands of pregnancy and caring for young children prompted a deep reflection about the self-denial and spiritual growth that come with being a mother.

The hardships that the poor who are mothers at Casa Juan Diego endure are often extreme and heartbreaking, but marked by a selflessness that astonishes and humbles. Whether they are crowded with their children in one of our small rooms or mourning the loss of a child to violence in their home countries, their stories remind us that a mother’s love is the closest thing to God’s love on this earth; it is holy.

Here is one of their stories:

Mara’s reunion in jail.

A woman I will call Mara was sent to us a year ago by a local hospital because she had no one to care for her after an accident. She was crossing the street one afternoon when she was hit by a truck. Her small body was thrown, her head suffering a savage blow when she hit the curb. The doctors were sure she would die. Because of swelling from the injury, surgeons removed a large portion of her skull. During surgery, Mara had a dream in which she said saw a man circling the operating table. She saw only his feet and his leather sandals.  “Is that you, Jesus?” she asked.  “Are you going to save my life?”

A year after the accident, the doctors have not replaced the portion of removed skull.   She is a miracle of the Lord’s healing, but the disfigurement of her broken skull is difficult to look at.  She can speak, though slowly. She can walk, though one of her knees is locked straight. Her left arm is partially paralyzed.

When she’s not lying in bed, Mara has to wear a protective helmet. Her condition is fragile. A fall could kill her.

I went to visit Mara recently.  She was fine, but said she worried about her daughter who is 20. As she told me the story, she sobbed.  Mara had not seen her daughter in two years and now she was in jail.  She was angry that the accident had kept her from saving her little girl from the problems that had led to her incarceration. She was ashamed; she had failed as a mother.

We discovered it would be possible for Mara to visit the jail since she still had a valid state id. My mother and I called her up rather abruptly one Saturday to see if she wanted to go.  Of course she did. We drove 30 miles to pick her up in a suburb of Houston and realized it would be a difficult trip. Mara needs lots of help walking and getting in and out of the car. I was nervous about her hitting her head and had a sick feeling after we were warned about her very serious diabetes.  On the roads, we kept running into parking lots of awful traffic and it took us nearly two hours to get to the jail.

By the time we arrived, Mara was spent.  Her eyes drooped.  She could barely speak. Nonetheless, she gathered all the strength in her frail body to try to get out of the car and to the curb. It was no use.

In the car, we prayed for her daughter and for Mara. In a breathless voice, with eyes half closed, she whispered “amen, amen.”

We promised Mara that we would visit another day, before realizing it would have to be the very next one.  In a cruel twist of fate, the kind that only seems to beset the undocumented, Mara’s license was valid for only two more days. To make the lives of unauthorized immigrants more precarious, the state of Texas changed its laws several years ago to require a social security number to apply for a license or ID. She was out of luck unless we returned the following day.

That Sunday Mara said she was rested and determined. We brought a wheelchair with us this time.  Mara said the Lord told her all would be well, and it was. There was no traffic and we were whisked to the front of the registration line by kind bystanders.  The visiting area in the Harris County jail becomes very crowded and extremely noisy, but somehow we had the floor practically to ourselves.

We found a corner visitor’s window where Mara, in her wheelchair, had plenty of room.

“It’s so hard,” she said. “I brought my daughter here for a better life.”  She broke down. I asked our Blessed Mother to make this reunion possible, for Mara. As we waited for her daughter to emerge, Mara said that no one could love you the way your mother could.  “Cuide a tu mami,” (Take care of your mother) she told me, slowly lifting her paralyzed hand to her heart.

Houston Catholic Worker, November-December 2012, Vol. XXXIII, No. 5.