Jesus, take my right hand. Mary, take my left …
This is a prayer that a NICU nurse taught me 17 years ago. My second baby had started his life with a month-long hospital stay in a city far from home. I was all alone, caring for my newborn son without the comfort and support of my husband and toddler or our extended friends and family.
One particularly dreary night, the nurse attending my baby noticed the crucifix around my neck. She sympathized with our trial by holding her hands open at her sides, lifting her eyes to heaven and offering the previously mentioned prayer that has stayed with me for years:“Jesus, take my right hand. Mary, take my left …”
Since then, I’ve faced many other hardships, large and small, where I’ve found myself walking the halls of a hospital or the quiet streets of my neighborhood, repeating this prayer with open hands and living in the comforting reality it articulates — that I am never alone.
Lighting a flame
I didn’t realize it at the time, almost two decades ago, but this faithful NICU nurse had sparked my Catholic imagination in a new way. She lit a flame that has been fanned most powerfully by praying the Rosary, meditating on its mysteries, relating to the beads in my hand as St. Therese expressed it best — as “a chain to heaven.”
This lovely nurse also helped me shift from a state of loneliness to a spirit of solitude. Psychology Today describes loneliness as “a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing …” Whereas “solitude is a state of being alone without being lonely; where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.” Add to that — Christians have a particular advantage here — the ability to lean not only on oneself for companionship, but on an intimate relationship with God and the Communion of Saints.
The great Catholic thinker Thomas Merton once wrote: “[Solitude] has to be a communion in something greater than the world, as great as Being itself, in order that in its deep peace we may find God.” [Thoughts in Solitude, p. 81]
In need of a hand
I recently found myself reflecting on Merton’s sentiment while listening to pop singer Miley Cyrus’ smash hit “Flowers”: “I can buy myself flowers,” she sings a modern-day anthem about self-love and self-sufficiency, “I can hold my own hand …”
“No, you can’t!” I yelled at the radio while I bobbed to the catchy beat, because the idea of walking down the street holding my own hand just doesn’t cut it (to say the least). But holding Jesus’ hand and His Mother’s; to know that in a mystical way they’re walking on either side of me — this quiets the empty ache in my heart as nothing else can.
And thanks to our faithful NICU nurse, it’s something I’ve been doing a lot lately, especially after some recent changes in my home and community have forced me to keep my own company more often than I’d like. I try to hit Mass as often as possible to receive Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us in the Eucharist each morning. Then at night, I walk around my neighborhood, rosary in hand, silently claiming the promises of the Prophet Isaiah:
“… In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength …” (Isaiah 30:15)