Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Hail Mary Pass

A colleague and now a close friend visited me the other day.  We are planning to write a book about a subject that is near and dear to both of us. It is a book about the maternity hospital I was born in. The building, now not only shuttered but cinder blocked-up, saw over 350,000 babies born between 1931 and 1979. It also holds some of the best Art-Deco architecture the world has seen. Within its walls, ground breaking work on preeclampsia and maternal-child health was performed. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt opened the nursery in 1931. And it had one of the first African-American and female board- certified Ob/Gyne on staff who later won a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Johnson. The list goes on.

The world needs to know all this and more.

But like anything truly wonderful in that city, it was overshadowed by political greed and corruption defiling its true greatness.

 We intermixed discussions of the chapters with salacious gossip, self-confessions and many hopes.  It was a great and productive night. 

She handed them to me as she was leaving.  In that split second I thought she was just grabbing my hand to say goodbye, but I was surprised to feel there was something in her hand. 

“I know you don’t believe in these but I want you to have them.”

I couldn’t help but feel the lump in my throat as she walked her to her car, her husband waiting patiently in the driveway.

She gave me bright blue rosary beads.

Rosary Beads. I have many of them stashed in drawers from my late mother, late grandmother and aunts. There is even one giant one with wooden beads and a large crucifix that my girls call “hang gliding Jesus.”  Sarcasm is truly a second language in my household.  I am afraid I have been the one heavily influencing its continuance.

Wikipedia tells me something I should have remembered from the twelve long years of catechism:

The sequence of prayers is the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary ten times, and the Glory Be to the Father, sometimes followed by the Fatima Prayer. Each sequence is known as a decade. Five decades are prayed, after beginning with the Apostle's Creed and five initial prayers. The praying of each decade is accompanied by meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall the life of Jesus Christ.

Mechanically similar strings of beads are used in other cultures; for example, the Greek kombolói, sometimes called worry beads, appear similar and are sometimes manipulated in a mechanically similar way, as if counting, but have no religious or cultural significance.

I am not one to pray.  If I had them, I would have worn out worry beads by now. The rote recitation of the rosary as a kid was enough to give me many a headache.  Many of the Catholic prayers I sat through and recited (and remember-even in French)  were just words that hopefully comforted someone because they didn’t comfort me. Besides, we were always praying for someone else anyway: the starving orphans of Africa, the astronauts of Apollo 13, flood victims, Mrs. Gizzi's many tragic operations, "Money for the Missions" (to the tune of "Pennies from Heaven"), Sr. Helen Charles' nervous condition and every other pathetic classroom, horrific national or dreadful international news item.   They might as well have been in  Latin.  In fact, I think I would have preferred the Latin since I would have learned something.

But lately I have been seeing rosaries more. It is a tradition in my family to have a rosary made of red roses hung in the caskets of deceased family members.  I saw one several weeks ago as I attended my father’s cousins’ wake.  It flooded me with memories of the far too many others I have seen in my lifetime.

But these blue ones are different. My friend has Stage 4 Breast Cancer and is doing well. In fact, I am in awe of her indomitable spirit and zest for life. Perhaps she meant them as a talisman holding some mystical powers because I can’t seem to take them out of my pocket.  Maybe that is the real  "mystery of the rosary:" a human connection for hope amid a lot of despair. I find it a bit jarring that the rosary contains fives “decades” or sets of prayers. Perhaps you have to be fifty to find meaning in these damn things? Or perhaps experience enough to actually need them? 

I have been granted the opportunity for a Hail Mary Pass in November. Details are not necessary.  Maybe with the right amount of study, a few beads, and lots of discipline, I will score.

Go team J! 

If Madonna can wear a cheer leading costume,  maybe I can too. God, Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima and the historic Apostles know, I was never the type. It has to be blue to match those beads.

Well, on second thought, maybe just blue pompoms. Like Mother Madonna, I am five decades old, after all.

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