Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pillbox Prayers

With her good arm, she wrote a short note
thanking me for standing before them 
and telling the story I’d told no one else before, 
no friend, none of my children, neither of the men
I’d been wed to: the story of the voice
I heard so long ago 
as I knelt by the bed of my youngest boy 
lying there so feverish and still
A voice that told me I was doing it all wrong, 
admonishing me to put things in His hands. 
That I should not pray for my child to get well, 
but that I should ask rather for the strength to bear 
whatever decision He, in all His infinite wisdom, 
should deign to make.

A few years later came Dallas, the motorcade,
the top of the skull, the bits of brain
splattering that iconic pink suit
and like so many other mothers, I mailed
my handwritten condolences
...we still did things like that in those days.
My own child had long since recovered. 
I no longer pleaded to Him
for health, for favors. Prayed on my feet
rather than my knees, and with my eyes 
wide open. In my note I encouraged the young widow 
to do the same. I received in return 
a small card of thanks, emblazoned with
Jackie's name- printed, not signed.

Many years later I stood before 
the congregation I’d recently joined, 
and with my own voice described 
what that other voice had said to me
a half century earlier. When I was done,
I laid down my notes and for the first time
looked around the room. The pews were filled
with wet, sniffling faces. Later that week 
the notes began to arrive.
The woman with the withered arm 
came up to me the following Sunday 
and hugged me. Hugged me!

Fifty years later and over the internet
they're streaming those original broadcasts
in real time, so we can re-live them, I guess,
so we don't forget. Jackie’s bloodied suit 
and pillbox hat are in a vault
with the stipulation that they not be seen
until ninety years from now, when everyone
who needs to see them most will be long gone. 
There are things that should be shared, 
stories that belong to us all. It’s not in the asking for
but in the telling of 
that we are comforted, maybe if we're fortunate
even healed.

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