“There is a lot of dissimultaneity in the world” – Maria Ludikhuize (volunteer)

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Maria Ludikhuize with a bunch of pilgrim laces that she made for the Walk of Wisdom

Maria Ludikhuize once won a starter kit for the Walk of Wisdom and now regularly helps prepare the starter kits herself. After a few serious accidents, her work as a nurse has become impossible. Her life was forced to become more ‘mystical’. It turned out to be a great wealth. An interview by Damiaan Messing.

Maria has been striking me for a while because of the warm relaxation with which she can say ‘no’ to a job. Her “yes” feels easy and free, with not the slightest trace of duty or guilt. That’s how I’d like to give. Not out of a reflex that can feel unfree, but out of ease and connection to how I feel at that moment.

In her small house in Nijmegen-Lent, on the other side of the Waal, my eye soon falls on depictions of Saint Mary: Mary with her foot on a dragon; Mary with a sword in her hand and foot on a serpent. A statue of Mary at the window, on a small altar in the house. Her famous namesake has apparently become a source of inspiration.

Maria Ludikhuize with her own work for her home altar

Mary: “For me, Mary stands for Love that wins over evil. Through mercy and insight, the pain in your life can be the impetus to become a stronger and better person.” When I ask further, she compares it to insight into the poisonous plant Digitalis. The poison of that plant is actually strengthening the heart in small portions.

It sounds very wise, but I don’t immediately understand what she means.

Mary. “In my youth, I was surrounded by people who had lost their way. I saw my parents arguing night after night. Because of their beliefs, it was not appropriate to separate. They didn’t use violence, but hurt each other every day with small things. Seen from the eyes of a child, who is looking for a way in life, I was amazed at how unwisely these grown-ups could do things. I didn’t have a reference how things could be done differently, but I felt from within: this is not right.

Only in retrospect do I understand that there was a whole force field at play that was not visible. They were good, but wounded people. Terrible events of the war had not been spoken and put a heavy burden on the family. Me and the other kids had a lot of homework on it, but we came out better. We’ve dealt with the fact that you don’t talk about anything. When there’s something special about someone, we embrace it. And each of us has learned not to stay in unhappy marriages: we are all divorced.”

Maria looks at me in silence for a moment when I wonder aloud if that is wisdom: learning from experience.

Mary: “That’s too rational for me. Yes, you can practice your behavior. But wisdom is also that there is powerlessness and that people do not learn from their experiences. So it’s broader. Wisdom is also learning to tolerate the fact that you see people fumbling or that you yourself are sometimes messing around. It takes time to learn from your experiences.”

I think that’s an interesting distinction between sensible and wise. Wise: this doesn’t work and so you change it. Wise: knowing that people – and perhaps also societies – do unwise things against their better judgement simply because they cannot simply let go of what does not work due to deeply ingrained patterns.

work by Maria Ludikhuize

Maria: “It’s about giving each other and yourself the opportunity to practice, to gain enough experiences that allow you to change.”

I am touched by what Mary says. I often set big goals, which cause agitation and burden in my body. Although I consciously experience the negative consequences of it, I can’t just let go of what’s causing that pain. The causes are complex and the solutions diverse and multifaceted. It sounds loving and compassionate to allow myself time to learn that complex lesson. That seems to me to be the right way to deal with pain.

Maria shifts the conversation to learning pain in relationships. “The best thing is, of course, that you hang out together, in a relationship or family, that you want things the same way at a similar time. Then you put something together. But you also often have that one adds something and the other takes something away from it. Then you are in the minus together. That’s not to say that a relationship isn’t good. You don’t always have the same amount to contribute. One person sometimes needs something that makes the other have to go the extra mile and not get what he needs. Things aren’t always balanced. There’s a lot of dissimultaneity in the world.”

I like how Mary first and foremost assumes a connection between people. It takes courage and patience to accept that a relationship is ‘in the negative’. The tendency is to conclude: it is no longer true!

Mary: “We would like to live in the plus, but you also have to dare to be in the minus with each other from the confidence that things will be okay again. You have all kinds of vulnerabilities. If they are touched, it is also an opportunity to dissolve something, to heal from something.

Sill at Maria’s front door in Lent

Where do we draw the line?

Mary: “With a certain innocence. If it starts with innocence, it takes time. Then indulgence is appropriate. But innocence cannot last forever. I’m thinking of two people now, but it can also be in a work situation or more broadly. I believe that we as a society become stronger if you are not immediately judged on something, but there comes a time when you have to wield the sword and make short work of a situation or relationship.

I used to work as a nurse and dressing a wound hurts, but it’s necessary for a while. For example, if you’ve looked at things and can’t figure it out, I don’t know why you couldn’t end a contact. I think we get in the way of thinking that everything has to last forever. Things pass – even during life. And some people are just vampires, you don’t have to just accept that.”

A little later she shows me a large weaving on the wall.

Mary: “I like to see our mutual contacts as a weaving work. You don’t just pull a thread out of the fabric. Then you get an opening that is very noticeable. You have to be careful with it, because you shift slightly in the stability.

Her own place in the fabric has been turned upside down by a few serious accidents.

Pilgrimage route Walk of WisdomMary: “The fact that I might now live on welfare until I retire was unthinkable to me in the past. As a result of the accidents, I suffered brain damage. Then my heart behaves weirdly again, then my kidneys. Other work or even a volunteer job is impossible. I have to get up very early in the morning, because it takes a long time for the energy to return and the pain to go away. Sometimes I feel like a crocodile that has to lie in the sun for three hours to get going. I have been given a completely different place in society.”

I ask her what that place looks like.

Mary: “I’m working now, just different. In my years without a job, I have been able to do an incredible amount for people I would not have had time for otherwise. I’ve empathized with people and done things for them. I like practicality: just helping out in a household or bringing food. Collecting clothes for a poor family. E-mail around to see who has something for this or that. There are an awful lot of people in unheard of sad situations. I took care of one of my grandchildren because my daughter had a baby at a young age and wasn’t ready. I take care of a child of friends in a special situation, I do informal care for a friend.”

After a difficult, searching period after the accidents, Maria now experiences happiness.

Mary: “The great wealth that has come in the periods when I couldn’t do much or had to rest completely, is that my life has become more mystical. Every morning I sit down on a chair with a journal, very quietly, facing my home altar. I don’t look at Mary, but she looks at me and sees how I live. I experience it as a prayer, a divine sorting for what I have to do that day. This falls away and it comes to the surface… It always turns out to be right.”

Front garden Maria

She tells how once a man walked up to her from the crowd on the Grote Markt in Nijmegen. A fat man in shorts with a big, straw hat on. She saw him coming from afar. As a matter of course, she went for a cup of coffee with this unknown man. He had a whole story he had to tell someone.

Mary finds a funny experience, which has fallen to her through this ‘divine sorting’. “Maria loves me and has fun with me. There’s always fun stuff like this happening.

Personally, I think it’s an act of humanity, ‘work’ to be done in society, that you don’t see when you’re in the mold of work-sports-friends-relaxation. Your week will be over in no time and you won’t see what’s happening outside your little bubble. Unless you are as open to it as Mary is.

Mary: “I believe that a lot of goodness is lost because people are not open to the unexpected in their lives. What I am advocating is that life on welfare should be seen as equal. I used to have a similar prejudice: what are these people doing all this time?! But I sometimes think that it is better to stop working than to do voluntary work. There is a lot to do. A lot!

Embroidery Mary after a design from the Ariadne

Maria’s concern for people stems from a desire for harmony, to straighten out the fabric of society after an event has loosened a thread. I think it’s a beautiful, spiritual way of looking at things.

Mary: “My own order has been thwarted. Now something has become active in me. I don’t have a self-evident energy, but I have to trust that it will be given to me. If I stay in it, what I have to do will come. I’ve had to learn that it works – how it works, and that I can be happy in it.”

Damien Brass

In Mary’s kitchen

Front garden Maria