Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 6: Saint Maria Goretti, Panel Discussion, Humility

Today's feast saint is Maria Goretti.  I believe I have written about her before.  She was an Italian peasant girl who, at the age of eleven, was fatally stabbed during an attempted rape.  People reported that before she died in the hospital on July 6, 1902, she forgave her attacker and said she hoped to see him in heaven.  Maria was canonized in 1950, with her mother, brothers, and sisters in attendance.  Her murderer eventually repented and became a Capuchin laybrother.

The story, on its surface, is astounding.  Young girl dies defending her virtue, proclaiming her forgiveness for her rapist/killer with her final breaths.  However, feminist scholars and critics have a problem with what has been done with Maria's story.  Over the years, she has been used by the Church as an example to prove the importance of chastity to young girls and women.  The message, according to the critics, is, "It's better to die than lose your virginity."

Granted, the message of Maria's tale is problematic.  It's problematic because it's been over-simplified.  The Church wants to use her as an example of holy virtue.  Critics and scholars want to use her as an example of female victimization.  I think both sides skip right over the most amazing part of Maria Goretti's tragic death.  Ultimately, her story is about forgiveness.  An eleven-year-old girl, on her death bed, forgives the person who tried to rape her and fatally wounded her.  That's an astounding, humbling act.  That her forgiveness eventually bore fruit in the heart of her killer is an even greater testament to her legacy.

The incorrupt body of Maria Goretti

Maria Goretti humbles me, which continues the lesson in humility I received last night.

The panel of writers I was a part of last night at Peter White Library was sort of astounding.  One writer had won the $10,000 Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review.  Another writer had his first book named a Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan.  The other poet on the panel had worked with former Poet Laureate of the United States Stanley Kunitz.  And there was the TV writer who'd been nominated for Emmy Awards three times.

Then there was me, with my handful of publications and one book of poetry, published a few years ago.  Talk about feeling humble.  Remember the Sesame Street song "One of These Things is Not Like the Other"?   I was the rhombus with all the circles.

Of course I tried to compensate by being funny, and it seemed to work.  I don't think I made a complete fool of myself, and I may have even come across as charmingly self-deprecating.  I don't know.  One of my friends in the audience said I stole the show, but I think she was just being kind.  I truly did eat a lot of humble pie last night.  (Actually, I started eating humble pie yesterday afternoon when I googled the bios of all the other writers.  I almost didn't want to show up.)

Humility is not a bad thing.  Everyone should be reminded every once in a while that, no matter how smart or talented you may think you are, there will always be someone else smarter and more talented.  That was my lesson last night and today.

Saint Marty is still feeling like a rhombus.

Where are all the other rhombuses?

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