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Lessons from isolation: My never-ending story (with a little help from Mary Magdalene)

Stephanie Blaquera

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Our stories are...

Movies, TV shows, books, video games, articles, retelling of experiences. Stories fill our lives. During this time of self-isolation (what I like to call involuntary self-reflection), I understand how comparing oneself to existing stories – as often as I do – can be damaging. It is fun to imagine the songs that would make up my soundtrack, how my score would sound, what my shot list would look like, the genre of film it would be, etc. However, that sometimes gets dangerous on days when I feel my life isn't going well. Nothing interesting is happening. I am making questionable character choices. Could that mean my life is a boring movie or a bad movie? Or could it be a tragedy, or a horror? You would think the logical conclusion would be to stop comparing myself to these stories. But really, these dangers only come into play when I forget who the head writer is for my story.
As Pope Francis tells us: “Each person is a love story that God writes on this earth.”
Stories fill our lives. And there is a fundamental element to stories – good stories – that can be easily overlooked: Stories are told in hindsight, with the end already built into the beginning – they are told with a purpose in mind, only including selected parts to fuel their underlying message. Mundane, awkward, even painful aspects of life (brushing your teeth, stuttering during a presentation, doing laundry, doing your taxes), we live too, but very rarely do we tell. Yet in order to tell anything, we have to live everything, even if it feels like forever.
We are not the head writer of our own story. Yes, we can collaborate and be part of a greater writing team, but we cannot be our own head writer. We cannot tell our own stories because we cannot live out our ending until we get there. Our head writer must be unbound by the constraints of time. Our head writer must be “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) in order to write our stories. Our head writer is God, and we have to trust that His ending for us is worthwhile.
Mary Magdalene is a perfect example of this: living through difficult moments, forgetting who her head writer is, but in the end, gifting us with the moral lesson of patience. In ways, our stories are...

Like Mary Magdalene’s story:

Mary experienced great suffering before Jesus came into her life. She was possessed by demons. And it was Jesus who dispelled them from her. Mary was healed by him. She experienced his miracles, witnessed his teachings, each step of the way in awe of his endless love. So you can imagine the amount of pain she experienced watching Jesus suffer during his Passion and after losing him on the cross. The weight she felt when she lost her teacher, her Saviour, this great love. She was grieving his death like we tend to do when our loved ones pass away. However, this grief filled her life to the brim, thus clouding her judgement. The severity of her grief was evident when she approached two angels in the tomb unaware of who they were. She even spoke to Jesus himself convinced he was the gardener.
So what happened?

Forgetting Jesus’ spoilers!

Mary was filled with insurmountable grief because she felt that death was the end of his story. She was stuck on this one plot point: Jesus’ death; she didn’t realize she was witnessing the continuation of his story – one full of joy because this confirmed that God keeps his promises. But Jesus had spoiled the ending well in advance: that he would rise again and ascend into heaven. She was just so blinded by her grief that she forgot about this massive spoiler. She is really only halfway through the story.
Credit: Stephanie Blaquera
How many times have you found yourself in Mary’s situation where you become fixated on death as the end? You must remember the first part of Jesus’ spoiler to the Apostles: the Resurrection. The Resurrection is essential to our faith because it allows us to boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-5). It is through the Resurrection that Jesus takes suffering – something we are guaranteed in our lives – and transforms it into something meaningful.
This gives us hope.
But what happens when we forget about the Resurrection?
When we forget about the Resurrection, we tend to seek hope within our world, within our mortal bodies, instead of from above. Although this may be an adequate solution at times, it isn’t always constant. Our human selves are vulnerable to the environment around us, external factors. For example, if you don’t wear a jacket during the winter, you’ll likely get sick. And it’s the same with our emotional state. You might be having a great day, but then you encounter a negative thing, and your mood, your outlook changes.
Suffering is constant. We can’t get away from it. So if the Resurrection transforms suffering into something hope-filled, what happens if the place where we seek hope doesn’t “boast in” our sufferings but instead magnifies them? We experience what Mary experienced: despair.
Despair is the abandonment of hope; Mary didn't see hope. The teacher who meant everything to her was gone. She was able to function regularly – get up, walk, the normal routine. But there was no joy. There was a lot of desperation, anxiety, and hopelessness. Despair is when one ceases to hope for personal salvation from God, stops hoping for help in attaining it, or stops hoping for the forgiveness of their sins, believing that they are a lost cause, that they are not lovable, not redeemable. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice, and to his mercy (CCC 2091).
Fortunately, in times of dark despair, one can find the light again. Mary – like we often feel – is overcome with despair. She is at risk of becoming lost in the abyss of hopelessness...

But suddenly remembers

Hope can be restored. And that’s exactly what happens when Christ calls her by her name, the intimate title of her personalized story, her book, her movie: “Mary.” She finally realizes it’s Jesus. And now she is not looking to her earthly surroundings anymore for hope because she remembers the promise that was made and is being fulfilled: Death is being conquered before her eyes.  She is the first to see Jesus after his Resurrection. The Resurrection transforms firsthand her emotional suffering into hope. Now she understands that our stories never end with death. She rejoices. Then she, the Apostle of the Apostles, rushes to tell the others the Good News of...

The Resurrection

The Resurrection is God’s Promise fulfilled. Believing in it is what makes us Christian. It’s what reminds us that these long mundane, scary, or painful days will pass. They won’t be the sum of our story: only parts. God is the head writer of our lives. He writes it with the ending in mind. He understands our lives backwards, and as co-writers we must live it forward. And as we co-write our journey, we must trust in His pacing of our story, and that our ending, through Christ, becomes never-ending.
“Each person is a love story that God writes on this earth. Each one of us is God’s love story.”
I will continue to hear a beautiful score. I will continue to frame my experiences through lenses. I will continue to personalize my story like an auteur. I will continue seeing my life as a movie. Because I know my ending – my “never”ending – is a joyful one. And this leaves me with hope – hope that we need during these challenging times – not despair.
“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Despair comes to those who focus on "the end"– death.  As Catholics, applying Tolkien's words: we do not!
PLOT SUMMARY: Our stories are Like Mary Magdalene’s story: Forgetting Jesus’ spoilers! But suddenly remembers The Resurrection.

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