A mysterious relationship with the letter “M”
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
At first I kept the relationship to myself. I wasn’t sure if it even constituted a relationship, although there clearly was something between us. I am talking about me and the letter M.
It started subtly. My two-year-old daughter Mackenzie repeatedly handed me her m alphabet card, ignoring the 25 others. Everywhere I looked I found the letter M, under the bed, or I’d open the kitchen jumble drawer and there it would be staring up at me. Was the M for my daughter’s name, or mine, or the challenging role of Mom? Maybe it was the mysterious M, who gives James Bond his directives, or my dead grandmother Martha? I didn’t know, just that it felt significant.
Then I started noticing big M’s out there in the world, plastered on large-scale construction sites, as graffiti, logos on trucks, you name it. It was as if the Universe was highlighting M’s so I would notice them.
Stranger still, when I’d get a pang of anxiety driving my family over the long Bay Bridge that takes us to our weekend place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I’d notice an M on the license plate in front of me. The M was always in the middle of the other letters and numbers on the plate, so it was surrounded, and the vehicle was always substantial, a sturdy pickup truck or SUV. Weirder still, is how simply noticing these license plate M’s calmed me, and distracted me from feeling as if I might have a panic attack and kill my whole family by veering off the bridge.
I decide to come out of the closet to my mother.
“Mom, I think its Grandma Martha,” I tell her, while grocery shopping one day.
“I don’t see any M’s anywhere,” she says matter-of-factly, looking around the parking lot.
Hmm. “Maybe she doesn’t shop here,” I say.
From then on, I keep my lips zipped. Still I take note of my attention-catching M’s, in a cheerful, comforting way, the way you’d feel encountering your favorite flower or a butterfly, or a postcard from a faraway friend.
Then one day I’m walking in downtown Washington when I spot something shiny on the ground. Never one to pass up a free dime or single earring, I stoop to pick it up. It’s a small silver charm. I can tell that it’s Catholic, the religion I was raised in, but I can’t quite make out the figure on it. Flipping it over, there it is, a large M, with “Italy” stamped beneath it. I feel lucky, as if the world has offered me the prize from its Cracker Jack box.
That night I’m at a weekly meditation group that I recently joined. I decide to show my lucky charm to the woman sitting next to me.
“Wow, that’s a Miraculous Mary Medal!” she exclaims, joyfully. “That’s wonderful, that means that you are attracting miracles.”
I am stunned that out of the 12 strangers in this group, it is Lynne, a Mary aficionado that I have chosen to share this with. I could use a miracle and I didn’t even know it. A healing sort of miracle, an internal shift of acceptance for life as it is, rather than my usual focus on the way I’d prefer it to be.
“I can tell you a lot more, but that would take away the fun of your discovery,” Lynne says. “Google it, and you will discover it for yourself.”
Feeling safe, I break my self-imposed non-disclosure rule, and tell Lynne about the M’s on license plates.
“That’s Mary telling you that you are not alone and that she loves you,” she says. “She’s throwing her mantle of protection over you.” Lynne’s green eyes are shiny, as if she is truly moved.
The next day I go online and see that Miraculous Mary Medals pulls up 181,000 hits. I learn that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830 and asked to have a medal made in honor of her Immaculate Conception. Mary promised that “all who wear it will receive great graces.” The many miracles that resulted after this gave the medal its popular name.
There are tons of Mary Medal sites, but why learn when you can shop? I find myself spending nights in bed curled up with my laptop cruising the hundreds of Mary medal options on eBay. After much deliberation, I decide to treat myself to a simple, gold Mary charm. I click the Buy It Now! button.
The next week, during a visit with my Aunt Marsha, a Catholic who has branched out into becoming a Reiki Master, I decide to tell her. Because we share a love of the ephemeral, I know she’ll love my weird, little story.
“Oh Miraculous Mary medals, sure,” she says nonplussed, like I handed her a Tupperware container of leftovers. “We all had those growing up.”
My jaw drops.
“I have one upstairs from Nonna, let me give it to you,” she says, and darts upstairs. Nonna was Marsha’s grandmother, and my great-grandmother. I was named after her.
“Take it,” Marsha says a minute later, pressing a heart-shaped Mary charm into my palm. “It’s gold.”
Aunt Marsha tells me that my cousin Alene, a thirty-something mother of two little kids with a husband stationed in Djibouti, has taken to wearing one safety-pinned to her bra.
“Alene wears one on her bra?” I exclaim.
How is all of this going on behind my back within my own family, I wonder? I ask my mother.
“Our mothers made us wear them because they believed they kept us safe,” my mother says, with Aunt Marsha’s Tupperware of leftovers tone, although the Alene news surprised her.
I had no idea these medals even existed (let alone on my cousin’s bra!), and suddenly three come into my life within a month. The first, a gift offered up from the gritty pavement, another a family heirloom passed down from my great-grandmother namesake, and a third, a treasure winding its way to me from cyberspace.
In fact, it’s been a month since clicking that PayPal account, and the thought occurs to me that the Web site that I patronized could actually be a scam, taking advantage of jewelry-loving believers.
But I don’t care. Life is exquisite when you are expecting a miracle. Large, small and surprising.
Melina Gerosa Bellows is a best-selling author and a leading magazine editor. She is a new columnist-blogger for BettyConfidential.com.