The Catholic Moment: ‘On this day, we ask two chairs’
May 15, 2011
By Jeanne Hunt
When I was in high school, I worked as a catechist for children with Down Syndrome. My special charge was Kenny, a very shy 12-year-old boy. In May, Sister Mary Celestine told us to prepare the children for May crowning. We were to help each of them make a paper flower and teach them to sing “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother.”
On the first Saturday of May, Kenny and I had it nailed: We had made a huge, red, crepe-paper rose, and Kenny knew all the words to our song, or so I thought. As Mary was crowned, the hymn began and Kenny belted out, “On this day, we ask two chairs,” instead of “on this day, we ask to share.”
Being a 15-year-old, I found Kenny’s version hysterically funny and so did Mary Jane Kowalski. We began to laugh so hard that the whole May crowning stopped. As soon as Mary Jane and I looked at each other, our laughter soared to gut-splitting proportions. Sister Mary Celestine was not amused. She told us to leave the chapel and take our students with us “so that the devout could honor their mother without our immature outbursts.”
I took Kenny to the parlor outside the chapel that just happened to have two very fancy chairs. Kenny started to cry and asked what he had done wrong and why we needed “two chairs.”
Mother Mary must have whispered the answer to me: “Kenny, we need those chairs so that we can invite our heavenly mother to sit with us and visit. Whenever you are feeling sad and broken, you invite her to sit next to you. Let’s imagine, right now, that she is sitting here. She is so pretty, and her eyes are full of love for you. She wants to be with you and listen to whatever you want to say. Would you like to say something?”
It was like I had faded away from that sweet little boy, and he started talking with Mother Mary. He spoke of how hard it was to be different. He hated to ride on the bus because the other children made fun of him. He wondered why his dad cried sometimes when he put him to bed. Then, he went over to Mary’s chair, and I sensed that she was holding him as he rocked back and forth. As Kenny was leaving that Saturday in May, I heard him say to his dad, “I met a beautiful lady today. She’s my other mom.”
I had forgotten about the two chairs until years later. I had just returned from my own mother’s funeral. I realized that I was nobody’s little girl anymore. Both of my parents were now dead, and there would be no more conversations with Mom about parenting and favorite recipes. No more stories about her memories of my childhood.
I sat down alone and hurting in our living room. Then I noticed the other chair. To the untrained eye it was empty, yet with the eye of the soul I, too, saw my Mother Mary sitting there. So, I did just what Kenny had taught me to do all those years before: I told her of my grief. We talked about things only a wife and mother can share with another wife and mother.
Then I got up and sat in the other chair. Sure enough, she held me until my tears stopped. Mary comes often to sit with me now, thanks to a little boy who asked for “two chairs.”
Hunt is the catechetical and evangelization advisor for St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications.