Dusk darkened the corners of the living room. After the bright, sunny afternoon, the close of the day seemed darker than usual. I looked up from where I sat playing with a doll on the linoleum living room floor as Mom walked across the room to switch on a floor lamp.
A warm evening breeze fluttered through the window curtains as I continued to play. Then, suddenly without warning, the light went out. Mom tried to turn on a different lamp. It didn’t work, either. Something had cut off the electrical power to our house.
It wasn’t uncommon for the lights to go out during a summer thunder and lightning storm, but the day had been clear and cloudless. Mom turned to stare out the big living room window. In the dusky yard everything looked normal, but despite my young age, I knew nothing was normal in the house.
A young child instinctively knows when their mother is frightened. She doesn’t have to say anything. The fear is in the tense way she stands, in her nervous glance, the way she breathes.
It wasn’t until talking to Mom many years later that I discovered what frightened her so badly that evening. She feared communist invasion lead by Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. World War II had ended only ten years earlier and the cold war between the United States and Russia was ramping up.
Parents also fear their children getting a deadly illness. One of the worst outbreaks of polio in the United States occurred when I was two years old. This serious illness would deceptively begin with a mere headache, followed by paralysis the next day. 57,628 Americans were infected with polio in 1952. Of those, 3,145 died and 21,269 were disabled for the rest of their lives. No wonder I noticed how panicked Mom appeared whenever my siblings and I complained of a headache or stiff neck!
A weatherman on the radio had forecast a major afternoon hail and wind storm the summer I was ten. After dinner the sky darkened with angry blue clouds. A scary stillness hung heavy in the air. Working quickly to rescue his dried hay, Daddy was in the field on an open tractor. Our oat crop had just headed out and the corn stalks were still tender. Hail would wipe out these crops. The welfare of our farm depended on the storm’s missing us.
I knew Mom was worried. I followed her around the house, feeling worried, too. There was nothing she could do…or was there? Making up her mind about what to do, Mom found her bottle of holy water and stepped out on our farmhouse’s front steps. A slight breeze had picked up, making the trees on the lawn quiver as if in anticipation. Sprinkling the holy water into the wind, Mom prayed for the storm to calm down.
The storm ended up being much less than feared. Did the holy water and Mom’s prayers weaken the storm? One thing I do know is that the prayers and holy water didn’t hurt.
In our lifetimes, we will never know how much our prayers affect the outcome of what we ask from God. Some people think that isn’t fair. I call that lack of measurable feedback an opportunity for faith.
What will the children of today remember about this unprecedented response to the COVID 19 pandemic 50 years from now? I’m hoping they will remember that their mothers prayed when they were frightened. Some of our fears are real. Some are products of a fevered imagination. Prayer calms and helps with both situations.