Mary Beth Writes

The last interview at the Nativity Scene. This one has only become more poignant with time. Mary Helena still lives in Racine these 12 years later - and if you choose to say anything kind to her in the comments, i can get those remarks to her for you.

Blessings on us all as we move into theis year's celebration of birth and love. 

Written 2005


It's almost Christmas Eve.  The way things often unfold when one is trying to pursue truth, beauty, and a deadline all at the same time, I did not exactly understand what I was doing -- until it was done.

The mother I talked with this week is Mary Helena.  She is a writer, actor, one-woman show, teacher, and beautiful presence in our community.  What is also true is that her son Aaron Woods, was killed this past summer.  Aaron plus several other innocent people were walking out of a bar after a good time on a Saturday night.  They were caught in a barrage of bullets not meant for them.  Three died that night.

Aaron was a handsome, loving, talented young man of 23.

So we are going to talk with a Mary who lost her only son.  I didn't plan it this way, but here we are.

Mary Helena's eyes light up when I ask about the day Aaron was born. "That first day?  I thought he looked like a Martian.  By the next day though, I thought he was the most beautiful child I'd ever seen in my life."

"We were connected to each other in a strong way right from the start.  I had a nightmare one night when he was only eight months old.  In my dream I opened my mouth to scream.  I awoke when out of my sleeping baby came a blood-curdling cry no child should even know.  He cried for me when I was stuck in the dream and couldn't do it for myself."

 "As a little boy he loved music and stories.  Sometimes we'd make what we called 'Story Soup.'  I'd be chopping vegetables for a pot of soup for supper.  I'd start telling a story about a child who was having the same problem or issue that I knew Aaron was working on right then.  We'd take turns inventing what came next in the story."

 "I taught him that if you believe in something, stand your ground.  Of course, one is so surprised when they use this against you!  In Kindergarten, for instance, he went on strike.  He told his teacher he already knew what she was teaching since he was an early reader.  He convinced a friend to join him, the two children went into the hallway, sat down, and commenced an unspoken strike."

"High school was a bumpy time.  He didn't do well in most of his classes.  Not that he couldn't since when he did apply himself, he did remarkably well.  I spent a lot of time on my knees those years.

"At the time of his death he was working two full-time jobs.  He wanted to go to college.  He was planning to go public with his entertainment company, against all odds.  He had already signed two artists."   

Aaron lived in the family house with his mom, grandmother and uncle.  Mary Helena stands in the kitchen of that modest and comfortable home a moment.  "I can still see him here.  He would come in from somewhere, and then sit down in the kitchen to talk with his grandmother.  Our family is small but we are very close. We enjoyed being with each other so much.

 "His girlfriend called me at 1:00 am that terrible night to tell me Aaron had been shot.  I drove to the hospital.  I didn't understand what people were saying to me when they said 'We did all we can.'  I was saying, in my mind, 'And...'  I kept waiting for them to tell me what came next.           

"Instead, they led me in to say goodbye to his body.  I touched him, his toes, his hands. The insides of his ears were still warm. What I felt in those first days would fill volumes.  I went places I didn't know I could survive. 

 "What held me up was God's grace and the love and support of this city.  Other mothers lost their children that night and for them I pray also. Over the following days and weeks so many people told me about losing a child.  I didn't know it was so commonplace, but I learned that pain recognizes pain.

"There is only one way to keep going.  It is to offer love back into the world.  That is what I think it means to become a mother.  Life isn't just about us anymore.  Through our children we plant seeds. We don't know where those seeds will blow or what they will produce.

"Mothering doesn't begin and end in our individual homes. We have all have connections to children all around us.  We all have a responsibility beyond our walls.  Even if all we can offer is prayer, then we must do that -- pray for the children among us.

 "I feel special compassion for young African-American males.  They are so feared and isolated in our society,  yet I look around and see young men who have so much to give who are carelessly, capriciously tossing their gifts to the wind.  Gifts that could benefit us all."

Aaron wrote this line in a poem. "If it hadn't been for the struggle, I wouldn't be who I am."

Mary Helena chuckles a little.  "Aaron had a tattoo that read 'Mama's Boy'.  I miss him so much. 

"But because I am a mother, I will keep on loving.  It's all we can do."





Blessings on her head. The pain gets bearable but doesn’t go away. My Mom lost a son. Good story, made me cry for this sweet lady.

What a remarkable woman and what a remarkable story! I was very moved by Mary's connection to her son and deeply saddened by her loss. I love her phrase, "Mothering doesn't begin or end in our individual homes." We are all mothers for not just the world's children but for the health of the planet. Another great interview, MD!

Thanks so much for your good comments, Friends. During the long and difficult trials of the men accused (and found guilty) of the shootings, Mary Helena would come to the trials every day. She has had hip surgery, she walks with a walker or cane, she walks slow and with obvious discomfort, except lawyers, judges, police officers, correctional officers, the guys who staffed the metal detectors at the front door - they all knew her and would greet her with the utmost respect. She would smile her amazingly warm smile and ask them about their day. She is a stunning human being; a gift to humanity.

I had forgotten about this story. It is just as meaningful today, as it was those many years ago. Mary just "keeps on keeping on." Her faith has sustained her, during the darkest of days. It's hard for me to comprehend how she has managed to move forward. She is one amazing woman!

She is a strong and amazing woman - and one of her strengths is her collection of good friends - such as you and Paula and so many more, I am sure.

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An Interview with a Traveler from Afar - Far Places & Strange Sights

From: December 17, 2005                          

As we trek ontowards Christmas we are encountering characters suggested by the traditional Christmas story; a shepherd who's actually a local dairy farmer, an innkeeper who manages a hotel on Durand. 

And now we meet a wise man traveling from afar.


When I met Eddie Jirgensen, who works for Merchant's Moving and Storage, the first thing he asked was, "You're not gonna say I'm a wise man, right?"

I said I'd call him a traveler.

He sighed his relief. 

What's Up at the Inn?

Part 2 of the 4-part series of interviews at the Nativity Scene

This was written December 10, 2005


 Let’s meet "innkeeper" Monica Hanson.  Monica, who is manager at the local Microtel Inn and Suites, is slight, has warm brown eyes, and smiles when I address her as an innkeeper.  She's just Lutheran enough to get the joke.

I ask her why she picked this career.

An Interview with a Shepherd (Actually, he's a Dairy Farmer)

In the next few days, as we slide into Christmas, I am going to reprint four interviews I wrote for the Racine Journal Times, years ago.  

From December 3, 2005


Perhaps you've heard the story that goes with this season.  It includes in its cast of characters; some shepherds, an innkeeper, travelers from afar, and a young mother. These persons are acclaimed for their endurance, compassion, and wisdom. I'm going to talk with some local persons who are the above - shepherd, innkeeper, traveler, and mother - to see what these characters might say to us today.

Peace Makers' Freedom Train / 1984

This is my first published writing. It appeared in 1984 in The Other Side, a social-activist evangelical publication based in Philadelphia, PA.

The Other Side was similar to and friends with Sojourners, a community of evangelical social activists based in Washington DC.  If you have ever heard Jim Wallis on NPR, or read any of his books, he is one of the founders of this small but influential slant of modern Christianity. Sojourners started in the Chicago area; I knew some of those good people decades ago.

Rites of Passage; They Pop Up Everywhere

First published: August 23, 2003

I have a lot going on lately; some professional stuff about my career, some financial things I should sit down and figure out.  My oldest child is moving away to begin college next week.  My youngest starts middle school the week after.  There are several things I should be doing towards world peace and justice, plus, I can't remember if we gave the cats their flea medicine this month.  That last thing won't be trivial if we forgot.

I decided I needed to get organized.  I made a list of things to do and people to call. 

Paul Hessert - "He taught us"

Paul Hessert died in the summer of 2001 as a result of injuries from a terrible car accident. His wonderful wife was also seriously hurt, so the memorial service for Paul was not held until September, just a few weeks after 9/11. Traveling was difficult for many of his former students; only a few of us made it to the United Methodist church in Montrose, PA. It was one of the honors of my life to be asked by his family to speak to the congregation as a representative of his many, many students over the years. 

His daughter sent the wonderful photo of Paul. Thank you!

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