My garden right now, before the autumn crops burgeon, is a wilderness of overloaded tomato vines reeling off their stakes and unpruned marigolds throwing out blooms like scattered pennies. They seem to thrive on neglect; they reward minimal effort with an abundant harvest. What, I wonder, would they do for a careful gardener? So I Googled proper ways of caring for my marigolds and found that they are associated with today’s feast, and with Mary in general. They were blessed at Mass on this day in the past, along with other herbs and flowers known to have healing properties.
Because I’d rather read than garden, this search also led me to Eugenia Collier’s short story “Marigolds“, concerning a young African American woman and her community in pre-Civil-Rights-Era America. Apparently it’s often anthologized and taught in literature courses, but I’ve only now discovered it and found it perfect reading for this feast day. To my mind Mary is silently everywhere in it, as it deals with themes of beauty, repentance, and what it means for a woman to deal maturely with sorrow and injustice and human suffering. In Mary, innocence and compassion coexist, as the narrator posits they cannot in ordinary humans. Mary is wisdom without sin; she stands against evil yet stands in favor of us weak, broken humans at every moment. As the mother of Jesus, she is the mother of mercy. So in light of the story’s last line, in light of my neglected garden, I am now seeing marigolds as a symbol of mercy: the beauty given in response to our repentance, despite our total lack of deserving.