Tonight we prayed the Stations of the Cross. There were only three of us, so there were no robes or processional cross; but we sang the Stabat Mater in the plainest of plainsong made beautiful by the gift of prayer; and I lit a candle from the tapers at the altar to illuminate each station. After a while, it became quite heavy, and then – the strangest thing – when all was said and done and the others were gone, it was the hardest thing to bear to snuff it out.
The sixth station – that extra-biblical scene in which a woman, traditionally named Veronica, wipes the face of Jesus – was near our intecessory lights, so we lit candles for those who have no one to care for them, or to wipe their brow.
On the way home, I was accosted by a memory from my first term away at college. I had been laid low by the flu, and kept to my bed well into the afternoon. I was startled awake by a knock at the door. Someone wanted to know if she could make me a cup of tea.
I think that I said, “No, thank you,” not because I didn’t want the tea, but because she took me by surprise. It had not occurred to me until that very moment that I did not have to muddle through, manage, cope, suffer – be – alone.
I don’t suppose she remembers. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to her to offer a virally distressed classmate a little tea and sympathy. But I have never forgotten her kindness, or the healing she offered in her outstretched hand.