Wealth of a Different KindMary's voice was soft. It lilted like the mountains. Her blue eyes sparkled peace. Too many people in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo. (Population 500) She moved up the mountain to where the St. Joseph's lillies grew free and Croagh Patrick, the church where St. Patrick first brought Christianity to Ireland, was two miles up.
When you see Croagh Patrick from the ground, you see this massive mountain and this tiny white church way at the top of dramatic desolation. But to Mary it is just an hour's hike up the back on a good day.
She had a sick little lamb who couldn't get up. It's feet were bent. So she fed him by hand. "Oh, we don't name sheep here," she said, laughing. And then she had a field of year-old lambs. They just ran free on the mountain always coming back to the shed when it rained. The milkman left plenty of milk by the side of the road, and there was cheese, too.
She had us over for lunch, Cathleen, Lora, and me. A beautiful lunch of ham, cheese, and lettuce that was just picked. The kitchen floor was stone, and there was a hearth, where Skippy, the neighbor's dog rested by the fire. She also had two dogs of her own. Two iron pots, in which she baked bread, sat beside the hearth. "It comes out very nice," she said. I could only imagine.
There was a picture of a fiercely proud Irish woman in the parlor, taken in 1887. It had a beautiful frame. And pictures of this white Jesus. I have always wondered who that white man was because Jesus was a dark- skinned Middle Eastern Jew. But I suppose everyone needs a God in their image, and so there he was, face of white stained-glass, tending sheep in her house full of crosses.
It was not a place for questions. It was not a place for the power struggles of multicultural urban America. It was a place radiant with spiritual wealth in its simplicity, in its overpowering beauty, in its freedom. Remote from man--close to God. That was her luxury.
She didn't have to struggle. She could be kind.
I was shaking inside when I left for I knew I had seen a woman who had all the answers she needed. She felt God on the mountain. It was wealth of a different kind.
© copyright, 1997, Barbara Steinberg