by Anne Kirchmier
Trail of Tears
You came on Ash Wednesday and left before I could speak to you.
I don’t know your story;
I don’t even know your name.
But I know that when you weep,
dark trails of mascara trace down your cheeks.
At the rail with my ashes,
I added yet another dark smudge
to your young and sorrow-filled face.
You who entered Lent in such penitence and pain:
Easter is coming.
May you be as attuned to its glory
as you were to Lent’s sorrow.
May you know the abundant life and love and blessing
of the One who comes
to wipe away every tear.
Communion at the monastery consists of sweet brown bread in round loaves, broken into thick pieces for distribution; and golden wine.
From out of nowhere, I start to wonder about the math of it all. I’ve been receiving communion since the age of 4, roughly once per week for the last 49 years, the bread mostly as wafers. If each sip of wine is a teaspoon and each wafer is a quarter of a gram (I looked it up!), then thus far in my lifetime I’ve drunk about three gallons of communion wine and eaten 1 and 1/3 pounds of communion bread. Three gallons of Jesus’ blood and 1 1/3 pounds of Jesus’ body.
You are what you eat, they say.
Does it show?
Your hands are full, old woman—
boarding passes, carry-ons,
your husband with his cloudy mind
who departs for the men’s room alone
but then must be retrieved.
You watch my bag; I guard yours.
Our crosswords keep us busy.
When the announcement comes to check our bags for free,
I leap up
and dash to be first at the counter.
It does not occur to me to offer you any help.
It is only when I turn back,
suddenly remembering the backpack I so carelessly deserted in my haste,
that I see you behind me,
and you see my alarm.
You point to your husband, our seats, my undisturbed bag.
“You’re okay,” you say.
Your hands are full, old woman—
but not too full to offer kindness,
reassurance and compassion beyond what I deserve.
“You’re okay,” you say,
and I see a glimpse of God.
Before it was mine, the clock was Mom’s. Before that it belonged to Auntie Nell; and even before that it was the property of Uncle Frank, who probably bought it new. A ship’s bell clock, handcrafted in gleaming brass, marking the watches of day and night: a satisfying purchase for a sailor who served in the War to End All Wars.
The clock is old now, able to keep time but with its ringing diminished from melodious, well-ordered chiming to random clanging each half-hour. Local craftsmen have not been able to set it right. But then I discover that the Chelsea Clock Company, the original manufacturer, still exists! My clock can be repaired and restored.
I fill out the form and photograph the clock, noticing for the first time the marring on the clock face, the tarnish on the brass. I document the imperfections: loose glass, misaligned cover, malfunctioning latch. Curious, I research the purchase price of a new ship’s bell clock: about $4,000.00
I had no idea they were so valuable.
I fly to Boston, the clock swaddled in my thickest sweater, resting on the bottom of my backpack. I take a Lyft from the monastery to the clock company. Running my finger one more time along the side of Uncle Frank’s clock, I hand it over for cleaning and repair and restoration.
That night, in my cell, it occurs to me that I too have come to Boston for cleaning and repair and restoration. Like my clock, I am returning to the One who made me: the only One who has the skill and patience to restore me, the One who sees in me—and in all of us—more worth than we can possibly imagine.