[Going through some old papers, I came across this column I wrote for The Houston Post in March 1985, more than five years before I got my long-held wish to be a columnist for that paper, and about six years before my mother died. I was working in The Post’s Washington bureau at the time.]
WASHINGTON – This morning, as usual, I walked from my apartment to the subway, a couple of blocks away, on my way to work. As I rounded a corner, I noticed a woman sitting on a short stone fence near a bus stop.
She was Latina, short and slightly built. Something about her seemed familiar. But I couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I walked right in front of her and saw that, as she sat there patiently waiting for her bus, she held in her hands a rosary.
She was praying.
I knew then what it was about her that was so familiar. It was her posture. I have seen that posture so many times: the slight stoop of the rounded shoulders, the right leg draped over the other, the two hands resting on the lap, caressing and massaging each bead as the lips form the words of the Padre Nuestro and the Dios te Salve.
I have witnessed that scene many times in my life, at home. I couldn’t count the number of times I walked into my mother’s bedroom to find her sitting on the edge of her bed, silently saying her rosary. For years she’s been doing it at least once a day.
She prayed when she was young and busy with work inside and outside the home. Now that she’s retired with little to do but watch her Mexican soap operas on television, she still prays, often while watching TV. I’ve often wondered how God feels about time-sharing with a soap opera. If he resents it, he hasn’t made his feelings known yet. I doubt he’d dare, since he’s given her enough suffering in her life justify a few more of her eccentricities.
When she was younger, her strong hands exerted clear control of the rosary. Today, after almost a decade of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, the beads rattle a bit as she holds on. Those trembling hands – hands that were strong enough to pick cucumbers in the hot sandy hills of Wisconsin and sturdy enough to top sugar beets in the freezing rains of North Dakota’s Red River Valley – today can barely hold onto a string of beads weighing but a few ounces.
Yet she prays. She prays for me. She prays for my brother and sisters and their kids and their kids’ kids. She prays for her sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces and in-laws.
She prays for politicians and the pope.
She prays for rain for the farmers and the starving Africans and peace for esa pobre gente in Nicaragua, El Salvador, in Lebanon and other lands, though she has no idea where most of them are.
And when she does, she appears to be completely at peace.
So did that woman I saw at the bus stop. While other commuters impatiently looked to see if the bus were coming in, others worked their crossword puzzles and still others read reports or briefing papers or whatever work they had brought with them, this woman sat quietly, serenely enveloped in her prayers.
And for a brief moment, as I hurried to the subway station, I was home, and I was rushing away from my mother, as I have done so many times before.