Sunday, December 12, 2010

Little Orphan Annie/Hands That Will Dip In Any Water

"I will never forget you, I will not leave you orphaned, I will never forget my own."
~from Isaiah 49

When my dad passed away four and a half years ago, I felt a bit orphaned. Although I was forty years old at the time, and had been without my mother since 1999, it wasn't until this time without my dad that I felt truly alone for the first time in my life. It was a strange feeling, and even now, it seems almost silly to write it out. Here I was, a grown woman with a husband and five children, perfectly capable of caring for myself and others, including helping to care for my parents in their last years. How can an adult be an orphan? Isn't that title reserved for little children who lose their parents? Yet, orphaned was a perfect word to describe how I felt in my loneliness for my parents, in my sorrow for my past mistakes and resentments toward them and in my lack of appreciation for all that they had done for me in my life. Why is it that we often fail to really see the love that we have been given until it is gone?

My Mother's Hands

"For years I have been haunted by a single line in an unpublished poem which seems to me to be very close to a definition of sanctity:
'Hands that will dip in any water." (an unpublished poem by Joan Bartlett)
I have seen the hands of a foster-mother chapped and bleeding from continually being dipped in hard water in frosty weather and have thought to myself that the stigmata are not, after all, reserved for a few rare mystics." ~Caryll Houselander
, The Passion of the Infant Christ

The above passage from Caryll Houselander gave me chills the first time I read it, and it continues to chill me each time I read it again. If this is the definition of sanctity, then I am certain that my own mother is in the Kingdom of Heaven with a halo upon her head. You see, for years after my father's diabetes and back injury left him unable to work, my mom supported our large family by working in a factory, a job she despised, yet took on due to necessity. Each day, she had to work with chemicals, dipping her bare hands in the solution which detrimentally affected her health for the rest of her days. The result of working with this chemical caused nerve damage that left my mother's hands with a constant painful burning sensation, and her hands were so swollen and without feeling that she could barely hold on to anything without dropping it. It was rare that she would be seen without an ice pack between her hands to bring a little comfort from the burning sensation. Despite visits to many specialists, it wasn't until the last few years of her life that the brain tumor that had resulted from the chemical nerve damage was found; it was the brain tumor that eventually took her life.

She dipped her hands in any water to support and love her family; to live her calling from God. It was those same hands that held and comforted me as an infant, that spanked me when I misbehaved, that soothed my fevered brow during many illnesses, that fingered countless rosaries during hours of prayer, that lovingly refinished antique furniture bringing it to a smooth and glossy sheen that I can never replicate no matter how hard I try, and that cooked and cleaned for my benefit and for the benefit of my eight brothers and sisters. She was without a doubt, a saint, and if anyone had ever questioned that fact, they had only to look at her swollen and pain-filled hands-her own form of stigmata- and they would know that these were the hands of a truly holy mother.

Today, I look for the stigmata of motherly love in many other hands, and I find it in the friendly wave of an elderly parishioner at the sign of peace, in the firm handshake of our pastor after Mass, in the gentle squeeze of my daughter when she's feeling loving, in the calloused hand of my husband as he works to fix up our old house, and in the nervous trembling of a first-time mother in my WIC Clinic as she hands me her newborn baby to hold. These hands are all signs of the continuation of my mother's love for me. These are hands that will know pain in one form or another, yet through the pain, they will bring love to the world around them.

The "hands that will dip in any water" are the hands of His love that will always surround me and will never leave me orphaned.

...To be continued...Little Orphan Annie/My Father's Eyes...


  1. Anne, this whole post gave me shivers! My mother's hands are gnarled, worn and full of arthritis from years of supporting 5 children and a sick husband by cleaning houses and businesses so I can well relate to your words here!

  2. Amazing analogy to the stigmata! God bless your Mother and Father's souls...Their crosses surely perfected them to see the face of God. Be kind to yourself for feeling orphaned. We are so very human and need to really spend time with some of our own crosses before we can begin to carry them joyfully. Sending you hugs for the Mom and Dad that you miss.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful meditation upon sacrificial love.

  4. The stigmata of motherly love...heavenly, divine and selfless.

    What a beautiful love to reflect upon.

    Thank you Anne.