“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Dumbledore, The Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
It arrived as a simple get-well card, a pot full of soft purple flowers etched on the front. Inside was her neatly inked greeting of warmth and comfort:
I need you next to me for comfort.
Come back real soon.
I have been lighting candles for you and praying.
At 86, Gloria is the oldest member of our Pilates and Yoga classes. She never misses unless she has driven 500 miles to care for an ailing sister in Connecticut or she is organizing the kitchen staff at the Senior Center. Our mats are always next to each other in the classes, so we can tease and urge each other on during the difficult drills. I’ve known her and her husband for years. He died three years ago, and their son died nearly twenty years before that. She has shared her pain of these losses with me as we have sat recovering from the rigorous exercise.
Gloria attends 6 a.m. Mass. She is a Catholic firebrand, fiercely independent, abundantly compassionate, vocal and active against social injustice toward the least, the lost and the marginalized of our society.
I was deeply touched by the gift of her note, her personal expression of concern for my health, and the affirmation that my presence added safety to her life. My eyes became moist with the knowledge she was lighting a candle and lifting me to God in prayer. Her gifts brought hope to quiet my fear and loneliness; her love extended me into a larger circle of faith while her trust gave me courage. Her light diminished the darkness in my own dreary days of slow healing.
She even made me laugh. She told my wife that she had accidentally put $20 in the candle box, far more than the normal price for a candle. So she lit a few candles for me that she considered pre-paid. She said, “That explains why your recovery was so slow…the church expects payment each time.”
I receive prayer and the lighting of a candle as actions of trust and concern, be it from one person or from a prayer circle. This gift deserves great respect for it crosses miles and untold barricades to stifle loneliness, sadness and despair.
Recently, I had the experience of one of my medical doctors turning to me as he was leaving our appointment. He said something I seldom expect from the buttoned-up, tight-lipped medical professional, “Please pray for me. Life has been rough for me lately.”
I didn’t need to know the details. I simply responded, “Thank you for your trust. I shall definitely hold you in my prayers.”
Ian Fleming, the scribe who crafted the James Bond, 007 tales, is seldom thought of as a religious person. Your opinion may shift when you read my book on Fleming and Bond. While Fleming was not a regular church goer, he often visited old stone churches. When asked about Christianity, he quipped, “You can’t grow up in the English school system without it having an effect on you.”
During a visit with his friend, Ivar Bryce, in Vermont, Fleming had such a serious kidney-stone problem that he was rushed in agony to New York’s Presbyterian Hospital for treatment. While there, he was visited by his long time Catholic friend, Clare Blanshard. She recalled times when other friends had teased or demeaned her for her religious beliefs, while Fleming had always treated her beliefs as sacred.
While lying in the hospital bed, Fleming surprised Blanshard by requesting that a candle be lit for him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She was puzzled, but Ian insisted. Blanshard called publisher Naomi Burton, whose office was near the cathedral, to accomplish Ian’s request. In true ecumenical style, Naomi’s Jewish secretary performed the request.
Ian Fleming was extremely pleased but insisted he know the time the candle had been lit. When he learned that it was at four o’clock, he declared that was exactly the time his pain had lifted. Fleming informed his wife, Ann, that “the Stone Age at least is passed and now to strangle Dame Sciatica.”
In a world filled with violence, rudeness and disrespect, it is a gift to know that someone cares enough to say a prayer or light a candle to invoke love, healing and compassion into our world.