By John Thomas Tuft

Mary Catherine liked to go outside after the rain and make a fresh batch of mudpies. And when, inevitably, she needed to push the hair out of her eyes, the hand that did so was also, inevitably, coated with good, gooey mud. The resulting effect was to leave a dark smear over one eye, like an eyepatch. “Mary Catherine,” her mother exclaimed when the girl came inside with a tray of fresh baked mudpies, “you are my one and only cookie pirate!” Then her mother would send her off to the bathtub with a none too serious scolding. After her bath, Mary Catherine would help her mother put the soiled clothes into the washing machine. Then she would climb up on a chair and watch the water fill the tub, toss in the detergent pod, close the lid and marvel at what magic must occur where no one can see.

Mary Catherine’s mother and father made it a point to teach her that she, and she alone, was responsible for her own behavior. “You don’t do good things to make Jesus love you and you don’t do bad things because the devil made you do it,” her mother told her, over and over. And her father mansplained it by admonishing, “If all your friends went and jumped off a bridge, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing.” And as all fathers like to add, “Now does it?!” The next time it rained, and she went out to make a fresh batch of mudpies, Mary Catherine thought about what her parents said to her. How did they know how to be a mother and a father? she wondered. And as she made the mud pies and wiped the hair from her eyes, she looked back at the house, safe and secure, with the wonder in her eyes of a cookie pirate. They must know some magic that occurs where no one can see.

As she grew older, Mary Catherine gave up the art of making mudpies and turned her attention to other things. She loved playing basketball for the high school team and studying science, especially about stars and planets and far off forces at work in the universe. She liked to laugh and have fun with her friends. She tested the boundaries of the world her parents had placed around her, as they hoped to keep her safe and secure as she grew up. The time came when Mary Catherine prepared to leave home to study astrophysics far away at the university. “It seems like just yesterday you were in the back yard, after the rain, making mud pies,” whispered her mother. “I’ll always be your cookie pirate,” said Mary Catherine through brave tears. Her father hugged her close, filled with wonder and amazement at this creature who gave him such joy. And they let her go, knowing that there is a magic that occurs inside your children where no one can see.

After college, Mary Catherine got a job in her field and met a man who greatly appreciated that she always was responsible for her own words and actions and held him to the same standard. In good time, they came to visit her parents and announced that they were getting married. There was excitement and rejoicing. When they decided the time was right, Mary Catherine and her husband announced that they were going to have a baby.  Great plans were made, and a place was prepared in the home and hearts of all those who cared for the coming child. About forty weeks into the pregnancy however, Mary Catherine noticed that the little boy had stopped moving in her womb. Something was terribly wrong. At the hospital, Mary Catherine labored and strained to give stillbirth to the body of her son. The wrenching heartache and grief and pain works a dark magic all its own.

Outside in the back yard, Mary Catherine sat on a bench beside the garden and wondered, Who was responsible for her pain? She had done nothing wrong. It simply happened, something in the wonder and magic of forming a baby had not happened the way it is supposed to. Sometimes you do everything right, and things still go wrong. Awful pain and loss still come. And we can whisper to the stars and pray with the breezes, but it does not change what happened. It started to rain, but still she sat. Her mother watched her for a time, then came out and sat beside her. After touching her daughter on the cheek, she slipped off the bench beside the garden. She began to form the mud into small mudpies. When she brushed the hair from her eyes, it left a streak. She held her offering up to her hurting daughter. “I’m so sorry, my cookie pirate. This is all I have for you.” Sometimes all we can do is sit close by and watch and wait while the grieving heart works its magic where no one can see.

Words are magic and stories are the breath of the soul.