The Three Maries
September 28, 2016
“You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.”
—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
My maternal grandfather was one of seven children, four girls and three boys. All three of the boys grew up to marry women named Marie. Now, these women were all born in the nineteen-teens, when the name Marie was in the top 20 as recorded by the Social Security Association, but it always struck me as uncanny just the same. Similarly, growing up in the 1980s, my younger sister was one of four close-knit friends all named Katie. Their given names were variation on Katherine and Kathleen and such, but all went by Katie, and again, it struck me as uncanny.
But was it really? My grandparents were of German- and Irish-Catholic descent. My mother married my father, an Irish-Catholic man. They moved us into a neighborhood that literally shared a property line with the Catholic church in our suburb. Both Marie and Katie are, of course, traditional European (and specifically Irish-Catholic) names.
What once struck me as an amusing coincidence I now recognize as evidence of our very profound segregation, of our family’s unwitting, generations-long participation in the structural racism that keeps white people set apart—often in the areas with the better resources—and people of color in the areas that are left. Neighborhood friends, school friends, church friends, were all drawn from this very narrow pool of individuals; in overt and covert ways, I was trained by my culture to see this as “normal.” It took me 37 years to recognize that I had been cloistered off from the beauty, the richness, and the heartbreaking complexity of other people’s experiences. My humanity has atrophied. I have so much now to learn and to do, and some nights I lie awake mad at myself and the system I was raised in for the lengths we go to to stay comfortable at others’ expense.
Goddess, who in my mind’s eye sometimes takes the form of the blue-shrouded, brown-eyed Mother Mary of my childhood faith, help us to recognize pain, disappointment, hurt, anger, and fear as sacred emotions, too, with great power to move us toward love and justice for all—family, friends, neighbors, and not-yet neighbors.