In many of my Scene4 essays, I mention the beneficial influence of the Marvelous María Beatriz, my lovely wife. She's the one who
reminds me to be a human being, to focus on the light rather than the murk, and who retains the gift of wonder when, as a social work director at a major children's
hospital, it comes to dealing illness and grief and suffering. She is a truly remarkable person.
For eleven years, she lived and worked in her native Argentina as a nun in the Catholic Church. She did this during the time of El Proceso,
the Dirty War, and while the Church afforded some protection against the depredations of the junta, it was a still a dangerous time for anyone who, like her, believed in
liberation theology and who worked among the poor in the wastes of Patagonia or in the mountains of Córdoba. She worked with sheep herders to form economic cooperatives and
with disaffected young men and women who saw little future for themselves in the generals’ paradise. Even before her stint as a bride of Christ, she had entered the
shanty towns in metropolitan Buenos Aires (which are still there today) to do what work she could to save people from immiseration and hopelessness.
What I have half-jokingly called her “nunness” is threaded throughout her being - wearing the veil is not truly necessary to
declare the workings of her spirit. For the MMB, the veil is also her corporate closed-toes shoes in the hospital or, as in her latest work, the dress she wore for her naming
ceremony in a small village in The Gambia (more on that in a moment). It is the outward sign of the inward grace.
She eventually left the church (I wish I could say it was her love for me that flipped her, but that wasn’t the case). She left in
part because the Church and her Catholic values parted company, the former’s sclerotic conservatism in direct opposition to her values of mercy and forgiveness. She also
left because, as a 31-year-old woman (she had entered the order at the age of 20), she had a strong self-knowledge of her spiritual identity but less self-knowledge about
herself as a women living in the modern world subject to the draws of the flesh and the lures of modernity.
She managed to come to the United States on a religious visa, and for several years did odd jobs to keep body and soul
together. Eventually, she graduated with an MSW from Boston University, figuring that social work was the vocation closest to what she had been doing before, and since 1997
has steadily worked her way north in terms of increasing her scope of responsibilities and knowledge, currently working as a director of social work and patient care
coördination at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York, which is part of the omnivorously expansive New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
We met in 1998 in a situation where, if there had been a 15-second delay, our paths would never have crossed. Two years later we married in
the United States, with another marriage in Argentina a year later for the South American crowd. I can say without irony or false modesty that marrying her is the best choice I
have made in my life. The journey with her up to the day this is being written has been chock-full of love and adventure and satisfaction.
Her latest enterprise is working with a non-profit organization located in The Gambia, West Africa, called Starfish International. Founded
by Mam-Yassin Sarr in 2006, Starfish works to give Gambian girls the chance to grow up to be women capable of economic independence and imbued with an ethic of giving
back. María Beatriz met Yassin through connections at the hospital, and for ten days this August, she and several fellow employees along with two theater professionals
have been using Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed to help the girls create portable theater performances about domestic abuse that they will perform in other
locations in the country.
This is what I love about what she is doing. One of the things she found in the Church, at least for a time, was community, people engaged
in a common endeavor to make life better for people whose lives needed improvement and, in the process, refine one’s own spiritual nature towards more compassion and
action. She has missed this for years, not being able to find a community that feeds her soul in the right way.
Starfish has become the community she has sought. Gambian culture is a culture of hospitality and sharing, of celebration and ceremony, and
she feels that the work she can do there, even if limited in time and scope, is work worth doing, something that she not does always feel when she tells me the daily stories of
the infighting and politicking going on in the hospital.
This is what I love about her and why I will continue to love her forever. She has a wide heart and a sharp mind, an expansive compassion
allied with well-thought-through strategies. She can feel, but she can also do. I’ve seen this in action as I’ve watched her solve problems brought to her by her
staff, the ability to deploy this while telling them to do that and how to follow-up properly when “that” and “this” are done, all rolled out with the
confidence that comes from long-practiced expertise.
I love the spirit of her spirit, I love that she still believes in spirit, in soul, in powers that guide us if we open ourselves to them,
that she believes that things happen for a (good) reason and moves forward as if that were the true case of things. I love that she loves her wine and her food (being of strong
Italian background, how could she not?), that she launches herself into hobbies that square with her spirit (weaving, jewelry-making, cake decorating), even if that means
finding more storage space for supplies and machines, that she loves to dance even with her quirky sense of rhythm and sing with her deep tango voice. She has presence, she is
present, she can be prescient - who could not love a person like this?
We live on the second floor of a house, and a short while ago, she took a tumble down the stairs to the front door - a result of work
stress, over-hurrying, and a heel catching on the step runner. Luckily, nothing more than a scrape on her right shin and a moment of fright. Dust her off, and away she
But the incident shook me. I could not stop thinking about what could have happened - after all, she’s not a trained stuntman, and
there are any number of bones that could’ve been snapped and gruesome injuries sustained. I could not stop thinking about what it would have been like to lose her. The
thought was terrifying, the imagined loss was horrible. The barbed feeling eventually dulled, but it has not gone away, and it keeps me attentive to her so that I don’t
lose sight of her in the midst of my own moodiness and scrabbling.
I know at some point that the loss will come (for both of us), and when it comes, I want a better curation of the event so that the
going-away is gentle and sad and sufferable. But in the meantime, I have the gift of her in my life, a gift that really does keep on giving, a gift that I will keep receiving
with great thankfulness, like water to a thirsty man.