There are bits of Don Waldie’s memoir of suburbia, Holy Land, that read like Sanskrit. At first anyway. Alternating between a history of place and his own personal history are provocations like this one I turned to tonight: “When I walk to work, thinking of these stories, they seem insignificant. At Mass on Sunday, I remember them as prayers.” I blew by it at first, a little nugget alone, number 206, but I think I understand.
I didn’t walk this morning. I lay in bed, pulled the covers up to my chin, and wished it would rain like it did the previous morning, so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about lying in bed. I have a cold. My legs are willing but my head says no. So, I went out walking in bed, remembering, as I do in the morning when more sleep won’t come, retrieving past memories, fast forwarding to what could be memories, letting images roll by until I found one to focus on. It didn’t rain.
I was out walking with my grandmother, down by the railroad bridge where the creek runs and pools with a shady bank, where she watches us wade in the water, hands on her hips, her bonnet shading her eyes. Another time we were stepping gingerly through an overgrown cemetery, a literal forest, as she stooped and dusted off the headstones with barely legible names and dates. Another image flashed of delivering a pie to a neighbor, sitting “for a spell,” my sister and I impatient to leave. Picking up acorns among the trees. Beating a path through the woods. Playing with kittens in the woodpile. Putting black nuggets of coal in the wood stove.
Remembrance as prayer? Maybe they are prayers of thankfulness. Maybe a memory dwelled on is a conversation with God. Maybe we are talking with Him about where we came from and who we are and who we are becoming. In that conversation, I don’t think there is anything insignificant.
When our elders sit around and reminisce, we need to be patient: They are praying. The contented ones are smiling back into the past with thankful hearts; the bitter and complaining ones, still wrestling with God, like Jacob, until He blesses them. Both are praying.