I’ve written before about how I broke my leg when I was a boy. The events leading up to my broken leg began during the summer of 1967, when I was 10 years old. While holding onto the end of an old rubber garden hose, I climbed the weeping willow tree in the back yard of my parents’ home. When I got about 20 feet high, I climbed out onto a thick branch and tied the end of the hose to the branch.
Of all the summers I went through as a boy, the summer of 1967 was the most memorable. In May of that year, when I turned 10 years old, my dad bought me something I had begged him to get me for three years — a BB gun. That summer, I built a tree house with a friend of mine. My favorite television shows were Tarzan, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger — great shows for a young idealistic boy who wanted to grow up and save the world.
The hose lasted until September 3, 1967. I remember the date because that was the day the hose snapped while I was swinging on it. It happened on a Sunday morning. I got dressed for church early in the day and was in the backyard swinging around like I was Tarzan. When the hose broke, my body was flying sideways through the air. When I hit the ground, I heard the sound of a stick breaking in half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a stick that broke. It was my left femur (thigh) bone.
I immediately called out to my younger brother Carl who was sitting on one of the branches in the tree: “Go get dad, I think I broke my leg!”
Moments later, my mom and dad came rushing out of the house to see what had happened. Within minutes, my brothers, sisters, and several of the neighborhood kids were all standing in a circle around me watching what was going on like it was a sporting event.
My dad told my oldest brother, Jerry, to run and get a five-foot-long countertop that dad had brought home earlier in the summer from one of his job sites. When Jerry returned with the countertop, dad put it on the ground next to me and he and Jerry gently slid my body onto the countertop. Then they carried me over to the station wagon and, after folding down the second and third seats, slid the countertop (and me) into the back of the station wagon.
Mom was frantic. She climbed inside the back of the car with me. While dad was driving to the hospital, she knelt over me and prayed, pleading with God to help me. At one point, my dad said in a firm voice, “Kathryn, you need to settle down. I don’t want him to get worked up and go into shock.” At that point, my mom lowered her voice, but continued to pray loud enough for me to hear her.
When we arrived at the hospital emergency room, two men slid me onto a gurney and wheeled me into the hospital. Once inside, a nurse cut off my pants. I looked down at my left thigh. It was bent and swollen. The x-ray showed a complete break, with the broken ends of the bone pushing up against the side of my thigh. I heard the doctor tell my parents that I was lucky that the bones didn’t puncture through the flesh.
That evening, my leg was placed in traction. The next day I was put under and the doctor set the bone and placed a pin through my left knee to hold the bone in place. He then formed a body cast around my entire left leg and foot, my right leg (down past my knee), and around my pelvis, waist and abdomen (up to my chest). I was in the cast for three months. After that, I had to use crutches and go through extensive therapy to build up the flexibility and strength in my left leg, so I could walk again.
On that day in 1967 when my mom was praying over me, she was suffering more than I was. In fact, I really wasn’t suffering. I was in pain, but I wasn’t suffering. There’s a difference between pain and suffering. We experience pain at a physical level. We experience suffering in our minds and souls — at a mental, emotional, and spiritual level.
Suffering is what the Mother of God experienced when she came face-to-face with her Son while He was carrying His cross. We know from the Agony in the Garden that Jesus experienced great suffering. After He was condemned, in addition to His suffering, he was forced to endure excruciating pain.
Mary sought out and intercepted our Lord after Saint John reported to her that Pilate had condemned her Son to die on the cross. The sight of her Son’s wounds, bruises, and blood-drenched face and body had to be one of the most heart-wrenching experiences any mother could ever be expected to endure. Yet she kept her composure. She didn’t scream or lose control of her emotions.
It was her profound humility, her heroic courage, and her lively faith that gave her the ability to manage and control her grief.
Saint Bridget reported that the Blessed Mother revealed to her that Jesus visited with His mother before the events of His Passion and told her that He was going to be put to death. After that, the thought of what her Son was going to be forced to endure caused her such immense suffering, she was seized with fear.
Saint Anslem said that the only thing that stopped Mary from embracing her Son (as He was struggling under the weight of His cross) were the guards who pushed her aside and forced Jesus to keep moving forward. After being pushed aside, Mary followed her Son while praying for assistance from her Father in heaven. In response to her prayers, Veronica approached our Lord and wiped His face with her veil, and the guards pulled Simon from the crowd to help Jesus carry His cross.
When you and I reach out to Mary in prayer, she walks beside us as we carry our crosses. She sends people to assist us with our crosses and our suffering. There are people like Veronica who appear in our lives to comfort us, and there are people like Simon who lighten the load of the crosses we are carrying.
Mary’s meeting with Jesus on the way to Calvary is the fourth of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. She is waiting for each of us to reach out to her in prayer so she can ease our suffering and assist us in carrying our crosses.