When living isn't easy, Mary's 'yes' gives strength

This article appears in the Advent 2014 feature series. View the full series.

I sometimes wonder if Mary really had a choice. "Let it be done to me according to your will" doesn't exactly sound like a full "yes" to me. Any women's activist will tell you Mary's answer sounds rather forced; certainly less than consensual to our modern ears. But I still find her story consoling. Why?

I love Mary's story not because of how it begins, but because of how it ends. Whether or not Mary had a full choice in the moment, what consoles me is what she did afterward. She, like many survivors of trauma or something overwhelming, turned around and did the extraordinary: she said "yes" to living, even when living wasn't easy.

Rick Springer was one of those amazing survivors who also said "yes" to living. Abused by a priest in his teens in the 1950s, he somehow found the courage to keep going in the face of great trials.

After he reported the abuse, he was forced out of his high school seminary. He struggled with alcoholism, always staying one bottle ahead of the painful memories. As he persevered in getting sober, the memories pushed through, too.

One day, he signed a paper in front of him, a gag order from the Chicago archdiocese stating he would not speak of the abuse. Thankfully, years later, he realized it was only a piece of paper.

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Rick went on to share his story with fellow survivors, the media, and even sometimes the passengers he drove in his taxi. He knew that by sharing his story, other survivors might find the courage to share theirs, and perhaps another life would be saved.

I met Rick at vigils where Catholic officials were called to accountability for abuse. He was always the same: a shaky voice, but a solid heart.

After Rick was diagnosed recently with an untreatable cancer, survivors and advocates surrounded his bedside. Asked if there was anything else he needed to do, he responded, "I just want to know I made a difference."

"Those of us left in the room assured him he had, more than he will ever know," wrote Kate Bochte, a survivor's advocate, on her website. He died the next day, Nov. 15.

Rick could have said "no" to life many times. The thought of suicide is present for many survivors in those moments when night seems endless. My heart goes out to all those caught in trauma's tangles that haven't been able to make it to dawn.

But somehow, Rick made it through to dawn each day. He always found some way to say "yes" to life and, in so doing, gave courage to the rest of us to do the same.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, founder of a lay apostolate and a candidate for canonization, wrote, "With God, every moment is the moment of beginning again."

I imagine Mary lived this truth. I know Rick did, too.

Both of them may not have had a full choice in what happened to them, but they did have a choice of whether or not they would carry on with life. Each of them, with the quiver of God in their being, chose life. And because of their "yes," the world -- in large and small ways -- has been changed for the better.

In memory of Rick Springer, survivor and advocate (1938-2014)

[Nicole Sotelo is the author of Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace, published by Paulist Press, and coordinates WomenHealing.com. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.]

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