i remember walking the halls of my high school, tucking a day’s worth of worries into my backpack. i might have bumped into tears in the girls’ bathroom (for that’s what it was called back then). i might have noticed someone slam a fist to a locker. or leaned in to listen while threading my way through the throngs in the halls. i’d sit in my bedroom at night, tucked between the two twin beds, sprawled on my old braided rug, and one by one, i’d scribble a note, cut out a heart from construction paper, try to put words to all of the heartache, and the next morning i’d make like the valentine fairy and deliver each one. it was my earliest rendition of keeping a prayer list.
gathering up the heavy hearts of the day is what it means to live and breathe on this planet. we hoist up each other’s loads, to try to shoulder the ache in the hearts of the people we love. in the aches we just happen to hear about. and we don’t put them down till the darkness has lifted, has shuttled off to the distance.
i’m thinking about prayer lists because once again i found someone’s very big worry this week. and my heart, like hers, is now hurting. i’ve no idea really if taking on worry is something like taking on water. if now two boats are low in the lake, and that’s the whole of it, or if my taking on a bucket or two of hers might actually buoy hers even an inch. i’ll go with the inch. i do know that in my own hours of barely being able to breathe it sure helped to have someone ping me, let me know they were squeezing my hand from afar, reminding me every once in a while to remember to take a deep breath.
in the world where i grew up, prayer lists were as common as the alphabet. you heard about a heartache, you scribbled it onto your list. recited it every night before dinner, and when you dropped to your knees at bedtime. when it was really bad, a gargantuan worry, you called up the rectory and asked the church secretary to please scribble “special intention” onto the list. sometimes it felt like your whole pocket was filled with a long string of beads, one for each worry.
or maybe i was just raised by world-class worriers, and i learned early on that there are certain things that wrinkle your brow, that make you stare into the faraway. and that prompt you to scribble a name on a list, and stick it onto the fridge under a magnet. in the world i grew up in, worries weren’t simply invisible. worries showed up in pencil on paper.
i can’t imagine not worrying. but maybe to worry is another name for “to care.” to bump up against the hard edge of our superpowers, and see there’s a cliff and we can’t go one step farther, not even an inch. which is where the prayers swoop in. which is where we throw up our arms, and look toward the clouds, because a hundred thousand years ago someone might have mentioned that that’s where the angels hang out. but, honestly, truly, those are just motions. the point is we knead into our hearts, into the very core of our breathing, the clear and certain intention of the someone we know, or the someone we love, who is bearing an impossible burden. and life sure would be easier if we were all out pushing each other’s wheelbarrows. if we all gathered round, 1-2-3 hoist!, and did what we could to carry their loads for even a minute.
so, for my faraway friend who i love very much, i turned to one of the saints i met in my life, a very, very tall and glorious soul who once folded himself into the brown-plaid front seat of my little brown toyota corolla. his name was john o’donohue, and at the time he was a priest, a priest with a brogue (the very best sort), and a poet with a soul so big you felt like you could climb right in it. he was in the business of putting words to the flickers and blips of the heart that escape most everyone else on the planet. but he had telepathies and poetries inside him, and he wrote like nobody else’s business.
this is the blessing — the beannacht — he wrote for his mother. it’s nearly famous now, but it’s so very beautiful, and it captures nearly every last drop of the wobbles and soft spots that come when life hits the skids.
this is for my friend who i love, from a poet i call a most blessed friend, an anam cara, or soul friend, a concept my poet friend made a little bit famous because he wrote a book all about it.
a beannacht from john o’donohue, God rest his soul; born on a new year’s day, he died in his sleep the night after january 3, in 2008, just barely 52.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
what are the lines you recite when you are carrying the worries of someone you love?
here’s my long-ago tribune story about the day i spent with the blessed poet, which just so happens to have run in the paper on st. paddy’s day, in 1999. so it’s fitting for this week, 22 years later. egad.
Drinking in every syllable. xoxo
sending all the love and beannacht in the world. you know this was for you, right? xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox
I’m joining bam in the praying and the worrying, pjv. xoxoxo
Ohhhhh my …. you’re amazing. xoxoxoxoxo
Oh hh … so sweet. Thank you. xox
“[L]ife sure would be easier if we were all out pushing each other’s wheelbarrows.” Oh, wouldn’t it, though. Too many people look but fail to see. Or choose not to. As Robert Brault aptly puts it, “There’s a lot of not caring that goes under the name of minding your business.” I believe every prayer, every kind word, every loving thought casts a ripple of goodness into the lives of others. I believe heartfelt prayer is heard. I need not elaborate on why I believe as I do. But I have built my small house upon it. Bless you for being one who sees and responds. Angels can do no more…. Be assured that I’m joining you in prayers for your beloved friend. WordPress won’t let me make paragraphs when I write in this space, so I’ll just plunge headlong into my next comment, run-on style: It’s the most amazing thing in the world to me that you actually spent an afternoon with the magnificent John O’Donohue. His book, Anam Cara, found its way to me after my beautiful sister died. And it rescued me. I mean it. It seriously rescued me. So, right here on your page is real life evidence of how a single whispered prayer, such as, “May this book find its way to those who need it…” was answered. Please never tire in pushing wheelbarrows for those who need it, and count me among those who are pushing yours. xo
ahhhhh, dear amy, “I have built my small house upon it.” such glorious cathedrals you build with your words. oh, honey. grateful for so much above–that wordpress for once didn’t eat your beautiful comment, that you push my wheelbarrow whenever needed, that john o’donahue saved you. words do that, don’t they, for they carry the ineffable, the force that moves mountains, opens wide hearts, and delicately flutters in…….sending so much love. xoox
Love the O’Dono•hue palette! What’s in the name? Rainbows.
Then there’s O’Mahany! Pass the popcorn her writing is full of cinematic imagery. For instance:
“ if now two boats are low in the lake, and that’s the whole of it, or if my taking on a bucket or two of hers might actually buoy hers even an inch. i’ll go with the inch.”
‘Sermon on the Lake.’
Thank you B that’s inspiring. And motivating.
“And I get on my knees and pray.” 🎶 For others.
22 years later John O’Donahue deepens us in meaning and mystery!
BAM,when you mentioned him being in your brown-plaid upholstered Toyota Corolla, I thought it was figurative, referring to a book of his. Then I got to read your very own March 17, 1999 piece in the Trib. WOW! Anam Cara for sure!
And also sending love and prayer for your dear friend ….
oh, it was a brown-plaid interior, all right. the almost ugliest darn thing in the world, which is how i came to love it. tribune dispatched a small slew of us from downtown to the suburbs one weekend, and on a dime we all had to buy cars. and take whatever was on the lot. so the brown mobile became mine. anam cara, indeed….xoxox
I now know for certain why you were Homecoming Queen at your high school. What a lovely heart you have always had.
And I have read Anam Cara and heard John O’Donahue’s brogue – of course you knew him!
Adding your friend to my own list,
thank you, sweetheart. we shall muscle this beautiful friend right up the mountainside, and hold her in all the light that shines there…….xoxox
So beautiful….so grateful…thank you 🙏😘
hullo, sweet beautiful. seeing you here just made me melt. xoxoxoxox sending GIANT hug. xoxox
Words of plea? Please God, please God, please, God. I said them a lot Tuesday when Tom was at the oncologist (by himself, because of C-19 restrictions). I vacuumed, dusted, and begged. Thanks be, all markers are clear. So grateful.
Will be praying for pjv. Still praying for all the Mahanys. Love you.
Oh honey…..those words spoken with our every fiber. Thank God, T is all clear….❤️❤️❤️