Saturday, January 27, 2007

The History of a Name


Simeon Temple playing Simeon in the Temple
Shepherd Montessori: Presentation Play, 2002


Every year on February the second I receive a phone call from a friend. It is a different friend every year, but always with the same question. "Suzanne," they begin, sounding somewhat embarrassed,"I was at Mass today and I just realized...Simeon... I mean Simeon in the Temple. Did you name him that because of the Presentation in the Temple?" I usually answer this question with a short and simple reply so as not to drag my friends through a long history.

But for you, poor reader-- who has the power to click away from here at any moment with scarcely a trace-- I will answer this question in full...

Three weeks after my wedding day I discovered that I was not alone at home anymore, but was "with child." We hadn't been looking for this, but neither had we been avoiding it, and so I should not have been surprised. I was shocked at first and maybe even a bit nervous, but overall I was happy. My dreams were as bright as the noon sky and as starry as the midnight. I could hardly contain my delight. But news of a new life uniquely our own could not be broken in an everyday way. I had to think of something memorable... and I did. I baked a cake. It was the first cake I baked as a married woman and I decorated it with the words, "We Love You."

When my husband returned home from work, I shuffled about with nervous excitement preparing and serving the dinner. How could I ever sit through a meal and participate in such ordinary conversation when I had the most extraordinary news to tell? Though bursting at the seams, I must have managed well enough because he did not suspect a thing. When I presented the cake, he just looked at it with a smile. Then, turning his smile to me, he asked with the mildest confusion, "Who is we?"

Who is we? Who is we? That question still echoes in my mind because it was never answered. Never fully and adequately answered with a face and a name. In early February, I miscarried. Though I was little more than five weeks along, the pain of that loss was almost more than my young heart could endure. I couldn't understand it. At that time, I had not known anyone my age to have suffered a loss of this kind.

I was hurt, felt very much alone, and was determined to conceive again. After months without success, I was diagnosed with hormone imbalances that were likely the cause of the first miscarriage and threatened any future pregnancy. When these imbalances were stabilized, I conceived again. We were cautiously pleased. I did not bake a cake.

But when miscarriage threatened a second time, I was terrified. My doctor was gracious enough to take my frantic call at home, his wife handing him the phone through the shower curtain. He prescribed regular hormone supplements by injection and it was not a moment too soon. While the symptoms of miscarriage faded, we remained cautiously pleased.

I remember, as those early weeks passed, feeling as though I had been robbed of the simple joy of new motherhood. While I still felt joy, I was also haunted with anxieties and fear. I wanted the joy without the fear. It seemed unfair that my time of expectation, of waiting, quilting, planning, preparing, dreaming... would be tinged with sorrow and surrounded by fear.

We continued for three months with the injections and things progressed well. In late January, we learned we were expecting a boy. By that time, we felt confident enough to make a list of names we liked. Jacob, James, Alexander, Simeon, Nathaniel, Nicholas... I liked them all. How would we ever choose one? (Little did I know I would have ample opportunity to use ALL these names and more.)

In early February of that year we traveled to Connecticut to visit my sister and her family. They took us to the beautiful St Mary's Priory in New Haven on the feast of Candlemas. Before the Latin Mass, there was a candle-lit procession in honor of "Christ, the Light of Nations." As we held our burning candles, the choir conducted a concert-like production of prayers and hymns. With no little ones to distract me, I was easily lost in the beauty of the music and in the prayers.

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel; and for a sign of contradiction; yea, a sword shall pierce thine own heart also.

These words were repeated again and again throughout the ceremony. They were sung and chanted, spoken and whispered. Suddenly, as if by prompting, I recalled where I had been just the year before. One year before (almost to the day) I had been "presenting" my first born child to the Lord; not in the temple... but in grief, scared and alone in an apartment and I finally understood. I wasn't being robbed of motherhood through these trials. Rather, I was being introduced to it sooner than I liked.

Here was the young Virgin, pure and clean, humbly obedient to the Law her Son had authored and would soon fulfill. She offered two turtledoves for her purification because she could not afford a lamb-- which lamb represented the babe in her arms. Gently, humbly, she receives the words of the prophet,

A sword shall pierce thy heart...

And she wonders over them in her faith-filled heart. On that feast of Candlemas, suspended so perfectly between the feast of the Nativity and the Passion, I began to understand my vocation. To say "yes" to love and to receive new life opens one's heart to the sword of sorrow. Sooner or later and to a greater or lesser degree, that sorrow always comes. On that day, I saw my suffering with new eyes. I suddenly saw it as a privilege, as a gift--however small-- that I had to offer the Virgin Mother and her Divine Child who suffered so to save my soul from death.

As we drove home and talked about these things, we decided to name our son Simeon after the prophet who proclaims the dignity of the vocation to motherhood. It was only an afterthought that our last name happens to be "Temple." While we did not intend this, neither did we change our minds on account of it.

Over the years, I have come to know many, many other mothers who have suffered loss through miscarriage and it is heart breaking every time. But the beauty and the strength of these mothers always seems to shine through their suffering. On this feast of Mary's purification, let us remember all mothers, everywhere, whose hearts have been pierced and purified.

Loveliness fair: The Loveliness of Candlemas

25 comments:

MaryM said...

This is such a great story - I am very moved while reading it. Thank you.

Cheryl said...

Oh Suzanee, your story is so beautiful!! Simeon's name is just wonderful! (I know of a family in our area who named their eighth child (a boy), Henry) ;)

Hallie said...

Eloquent and moving, as always. I was especially touched by this entry because I almost lost my first son, Daniel, due to low progesterone which was diagnosed and treated at the last possible moment. Even our OB advised us to prepare emotionally for the likelihood that I would miscarry. Keep up the great writing. Very inspiring!

Diane said...

Suzanne,
That is such a beautiful story. Though I have never miscarried a child, my third child was stillborn. Because I seemed to
" greave differently "than most,
( internally) my doctor recommended that I visit a local support group .I found the HEAL
( helping each other after loss) group at our local Catholic Hospital My husband and I were very privileged to hear many people's stories of their loss. The stories that helped me the most were those who had been in my shoes a year or more before. Somehow you could see how God had brought them through their horrendous situation while teaching them things and pulling them closer. I learnt so much from this group that I felt the need to give back . Now eleven years later, I still attend functions and speak to this group from time to time to try to offer hope by sharing my story and listening to theirs. I must say that your story is one of the most beautiful and hopeful that I have heard. Though today's post was probably not written for this purpose, I am sure that it will bring comfort to anyone who may be in such a situation. Thank you for sharing !

Matilda said...

What a beautiful story! I don't think I ever made the connection between his first and last name, but I will from now on.

J.C. said...

Suzanne,
Simeon will be very proud to relate such a beautiful story when asked about his name. I am impressed by the faith-filled accounts of these mothers (you, Margaret,Kristen,and others) who have so ably identified the sacred and beautiful amidst the suffering God allowed you to endure.

Karen E. said...

This is just beautiful, Suzanne. What a beautiful history behind your dear Simeon's name.

ukok said...

Such a beautiful post was this to read! Many thanks for sharing it :-)

Kristen Laurence said...

So perfectly moving and inspiring, Suzanne. I love those pictures of Simeon as "Simeon"! And the birds....too precious!

Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

Suzanne,

This is really a beautiful post. God Bless you and your dear family.

Gabrielle said...

This was very moving, Suzanne. I understand a little bit better now your very special love for the celebration of Candlemas.

Jill said...

Beautiful as always, Suzanne. No matter what you are blogging about I always feel so peaceful after I read your entries. I think you should write a book. Seriously. Thanks for sharing this.

Jane Ramsey said...

Dear Suzanne,
This is superb. You really DO need to write a book--if ever you could find the time! Your writing is too good to be confined to this blog. It so deep, moving, and profound. You obviously are a person who is close to Christ, who prays and meditates on Scripture, and lives her life as a true disciple. We are so blessed to be able to share your insights. Until now I really did not know much about Candlemas but now I will never forget the beautiful lessons I've learned about it from you. God bless you!

KC said...

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Margaret in Minnesota said...

You know, Sweetie, I did not expect to relate to this post on the level that I did. ;)

As I began to read it, my heart swelled with love for you and your husband. The "We love you" cake was just so...cute, and since I already knew the progression of this tale, that is, that there were five boys on the way...

Well, I thought I knew the outcome. I was wrong.

And, as is so often the case when I visit your blog, I was surprised and touched and saddened and edified....all at the same time.

You were "cautiously pleased" when you discovered you had conceived. Yes, I can truly relate to these words. In fact, I think that we all can relate to this sentiment because we are never entirely pleased in this life. No, we must wait for our own First Glorious Mystery for that one.

Blessings to everyone who reads this beautiful post.

Alice said...

Suzanne, you continue to top yourself. This post is so beautiful and moving I do not know what to say.

Simeon Temple is the most wonderful name I ever heard.

Beth Pack said...

Love this story! Thanks for sharing, Suzanne.

earthie said...

That was so beautiful. Thank you.

Kimberlee said...

I keep coming back here to re-read this, but I'm left wordless every time. Your words 'wanting the joy without the fear' keep resounding in my head. That's what we all want, and skip the terror too, please. But the sorrow is a gift, as is the joy. Trust is the remedy for fear, and then comes blessed peace. Thank you so much for sharing.

Suzanne Temple said...

Every comment that has been left on this post has meant a great deal to me. Every one of you, I thank most sincerely. Thank you for your encouragement, for your empathy, for your friendship. It means more to me than I can express in this small space. Thank you.

Mary Ellen Barrett said...

I love this story. I am familiar with the cautiously pleased feeling. The twins were conceived after a painful loss. I think Simeon's name was wonderfully chosen and I think he is a blessed little man to have the mom he does.

neuropoet3 said...

Suzanne, thank you for sharing your story - it made me look at my miscarriages in a different light - one I wasn't likely to find on my own. I pray I can consider my suffering in the light of my full vocation, and as something to offer "the Virgin Mother and her Divine Child who suffered so to save my soul from death." It's also comforting to see that you have been blessed with a housefull - my prayers may still be answered.
Simeon's story is a beautiful one...
Peace,
Jenny

MichelleM said...

Suzanne-

Thank you for sharing your suffering and the blessings that were born from it.

It truely touched my heart which was pierced with the loss of our first child as well.

What a beautiful icon Simeon must be to you and your husband. May you have a blessed Candlemass.

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