Many of the vigil lights in Catholic churches today are electric. No doubt the fire departments and insurance companies are relieved that the tiers of open flames are gone. The sacristan no longer spends hours replenishing the empty glass containers with new candles, or scraping up dried, spilled wax, or raking the sand tray where wooden tapers, thin wicks and an occasional chewing gum wrapper were discarded. Even professional caterers are replacing the lit Sterno cans beneath their chafing trays with electric methods of keeping their buffet food warm. Fire is gone.
However, according to priest-philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., the fire will return. He declared, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Grandma could not wait that long. The love she felt in her heart for Lindy burned brightly for years after the fatal lung disease, cystic fibrosis, choked her first-born daughter into an early grave. As strong as she was, Gram was no match against the genetic disease that broke into her life and stole Lindy from her maternal hold.
Forty years ago, a CF diagnosis meant a person would not survive into their 20s. Today, daily respiratory therapies can keep the bronchi clear of mucus and help patients live into their 30s and 40s without drowning internally. But there is no cure.
With the possible exception of birthday cakes and scented aromatherapies, there are fewer and fewer tea lights in today’s household. But there is one significant exception in the home at 843 Windmill Way in the heart of farmland Pennsylvania. That’s where grandma lives. The picture of her daughter sits proudly in the center of her dresser behind a solitary votive candle that keeps an eternal vigil over the youthful face in the frame. The lonely flare casts dancing images upon the bedroom ceiling and moving shadows on the walls are reflected ominously from the mirror atop the chest of drawers. Those shifting circles often dazzled me to sleep, but I never met the girl on the bureau who was dead before reaching 15 years of life.
When I first heard the expression, “a penny for your thoughts,” I immediately thought back to the golden-haired Lindy. In addition to the eternal flame, Grandma always kept a dime beneath this portrait. I never knew why. Perhaps it was her way of saying thanks for an answer to a prayer made through her intercession. Perhaps it was a symbol of some money donated to the poor in her memory. Or it may have been wishful thinking, like a fantasy, that if Lindy’s spirit happened by a phone booth, then somehow this money would serve as the needed coin to call home. Whatever the reason, grandma’s dime and brilliant blaze were tokens of the unbreakable bond of love between a mother and her child.
For Holy Homework: From now until Mother’s Day, let’s place a coin or some token of love underneath a picture of a beloved mother figure in our life. Happy Mother’s Day, mom and grand-mom.
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