In today’s second reading, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, anoints the feet of Jesus with costly perfume in preparation for his burial. I was reminded of my mother’s baby sister.
Glenys was the archetypal fair-haired child in my mother’s family. Literally fair-haired and blue-eyed, a happy, laughing little baby girl, she was nursed until she was five years old. She was the late-life child of my grandmother, her last and most beloved, born when my mother was already a young woman of twenty. Glenys was one of those people who are born to be doted on, adored by their parents and siblings, and loved by everyone. The true mark of the fair-haired child is that no one is ever really jealous of them. The love they receive just naturally belongs to them, like a birthright, perhaps. The fair-haired child is never envied because to envy them is to deprive oneself of the joy of loving them. I knew her as a child, and though we quarreled as all children do, I loved her too.
I didn’t know her as an adult. My mother, however, remained closely bonded with her baby sister. During the last days of her long illness, when I had so much difficulty trying to manage things from the distance my job required, apart from the faith I shared with my mother, my primary source of peace came from the knowledge that Glenys was visiting her. It was Glenys who rode in the ambulance with my mother when she was transported from the hospital to the nursing home, where she stayed for the last ten days of her life. I was making the five-hour drive every week or two during that time, and having to arrange for the nursing home, hospice, bank, and a million other Martha-like tasks. Time by my mother’s bedside was precious. Glenys’s presence was a godsend.
On one occasion, I sat by my mother’s bed watching Glenys applying lotion to my mother’s feet and massaging them. I remember holding back tears of gratitude. My mother said, “That feels so good,” and Glenys replied, “Yes, that Keri lotion is good.” But I know it wasn’t the lotion. So did my mother.
It’s the mission, the assignment, of the beloved to be loved. Glenys performed her mission very well. I once suggested to a Cistercian monk that the most loving thing one can do is to allow oneself to be loved. I had Glenys in mind, Keri lotion, and my gratitude. I’ll add Mary of Bethany. You can’t give what you don’t have. The love Glenys had received for all her life she poured out to others, to my mother, as Mary poured the precious oil on the Savior’s feet preparing him for what was to come.