I sat in the hospital waiting room reading celebrity magazines, a guilty pleasure I rarely indulge in. My husband was in an operating room in Boston having a pin installed in his hand to help heal a fractured bone. In the great scheme of things, it wasn’t too big a deal.
Another family walked in and sat on the couches in a different corner of the room. We had a short exchange of pleasantries, after which one of that group said:
“Yuh not from around heah, ah yuh” – which, being translated, means: “You’re not from around here, are you.”
I told them I grew up in Illinois.
“You roll yuh ahhs.” (“You roll your “r’s.”)
After we had placed each other geographically by mother tongue, I learned that their loved one was having heart surgery. It was serious and life threatening. I settled back into my chair, and they carried on their own quiet conversation.
I started thinking about the room we were in. I had the sense that the walls and furnishings were thick with the love, grief, hope and longing absorbed from the intensity of all who ever had reason to be there. It was as though there were stories, weeping and prayers infused into the wallpaper just waiting for someone with “ears to hear” – if there were anyone who could bear up under the weight of it all.
This experience came back to me recently when I was given a new assignment as part of my morning shift at the Chicago temple. A new project was to train ordinance workers to handle office duties as well as the other mix of services we provide (from priestly functions to folding the laundry – all holy work in my opinion.) My assignment that day was to transcribe names from the prayer roll recording.
Besides being able to write down the names of dear ones with “afflictions” or concerns on paper at the temple itself, people can call the temple and leave names (spoken clearly, and spelled out, please) on an automated temple roll recording. Those names are then transcribed and made available with the handwritten ones for prayers on the altars of the temple.
As I transcribed the names that day I had a similar sensation to what I’d had in the hospital waiting room years before. Each slow syllable was potent and loaded with so many layers of love and concern and crisis. The voices varied (that day they were all women) – chipper, aged, matter-of-fact, anxious, many with Western glosses or Midwestern rolled “r’s.” Each of those voices represented loving, gentle thoughts or powerful tsunamis of turmoil on behalf of the person whose name they had just pronounced.
As I heard name after name after name, I felt a sense of awe. Of course I wasn’t privy to the particulars – just as the silent waiting room never shared its confidences. Each name I heard represented a specific child of God grappling with a challenge along the thorny spectrum of mortal experience. Each name was spoken by a thoughtful soul longing to connect that person with the energies of prayerful mortals and the compassionate Divine.
This litany became a prayer of its own – holy, charged, drenched in pleading. And that litany, that list of names – but so much more – made its way to the altars of our God, seeking the mercies of Him who surely “hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4)
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