Montauk’s Muse

Written By: Judy Kelly

“Move one bead over. Count your sacrifice. And then, keep going.”

Light a candle. Say a prayer . . . any prayer. What actually caught my eye as I scanned the ad for this writing contest? The $5000 prize money? Not really; it was Alec Baldwin’s photo with the blurb that he supports this. I wonder how many candles his mother has lit over the years while raising all those Baldwin brothers? And later while dealing with breast cancer – how many sacrifices has she made? Too many beads to be counted, I surmise.

I am in Montauk with my older sister in late June. It is our third summer visiting this breathtaking getaway. What haven’t we seen? We have two extra days this time and we definitely want to explore the Montauk Point Lighthouse. But where else?

I just finished my 19th year teaching at a small Catholic elementary school in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Its name is St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. Just like the Blessed Mother, this saint goes by numerous names and St. Thérèse of Lisieux is one of them. She is quite the popular saint among girls, probably because physically, she was beautiful. And don’t we all love a pretty saint. If you are Catholic and you have been to Montauk, you may already know that their church is dedicated to this powerful young woman.

Over fifty years ago, my sister Karen had a children’s book called Heroines of God that intrigued me. Being a very good Catholic school girl, Karen would read page long stories about women saints to her little sister. I recall St. Genevieve with her paper sailboats floating down the Seine; St. Matilda looking regal with her magnificent crown, and the stunning St. Brigid begging God to make her ugly to avoid suitors. But the saint I could or would never lose interest in is dear Saint Thérèse. Her Little Way of sacrificing, of serving, of loving always appealed to me. Thérèse’s older sister taught her to move a bead over each time she did a good deed or offered up something for God. As a six-year old, that was easy to understand, easy to do.

So therefore, I must go into this Montauk treasure and light a candle and say that prayer. Real votive candles with thin wooden sticks in the sand – just like the shrines at St. Patrick’s in NYC. How perfect! How many sacrifices and how many prayers and how many times will St. Thérèse of Lisieux listen, answer, intercede, send roses as promised, from heaven?

I pick up a church bulletin on my way out knowing I will read all of at a later date. The ads catch my attention because we have been to The Dock, seen Gurney’s, and passed Atlantic Wines and Liquors in and out of Amagansett. The proceeds from a fall cocktail party at Harvest will support the nursery school. Their newest fundraiser is to repair the roof. As the ad states: “Select a day or week that is personally significant to you . . . know that our new bells will ring in honor of a loved one for the entire community to hear.” When you sign up, you can even choose the hymn. Hmm – this is a new way to make some money.

What really catches my eye, though, is a comment made in the pastor’s weekly letter on the inside cover. Apparently there was a visiting parishioner from up island who commented that he already gives to his own parish so he doesn’t feel the need to give at St. Thérèse’s. Father Tom referred to him as a ‘liturgical user” and is thankful not too many are like him or “we would all be attending Mass in East Hampton.” That open admonishment echoes Montauk’s edge, its raw beauty.

I am now back home, reflecting, integrating the mist of Montauk with past memories. St. Thérèse did not send me home with any roses, per se, but as I sip a glass of Wölffer Estates Table Rose 2015 affectionately referred to as “the Gatorade of the Hamptons,” I feel peace. Holding a seashell in my other hand, I distantly hear the flowing in . . . the flowing out of Montauk’s pounding waves.