Saturday, November 24, 2012

Time Measured by Prayer

It used to be that time was measured by prayers.  So, writes Bee Wilson in her book Consider the Fork, reviewed in this month’s Smithsonian magazine, “‘. . . time was measured by prayer. . .’ describing how old-time recipes gave cooking periods in prayers (boil a walnut for two Miserere*). . .”

During my work days, I measure time by task: how long it takes me to do certain tasks is so routine that, if I still had a watch, I would set it by them.

But holiday time – that’s something different – and oh, so special.

There’s early-morning time, when I’m first up, alone in the quiet of a house not yet stirred, the time when I wander and prepare for the coming stampede of feet, the quiet before time.

Then there’s Rowen’s-up time, when my grandson, the next to awake, comes down for breakfast, where he and I sit quietly at the table and chat, each keeping company with the other, to our mutual satisfaction.

Next comes Daddy’s-up time, sometimes happening naturally, like the rising of the sun; sometimes prompted by Rowen’s get-up-Daddy prompting.  Somewhere in between, the coffee will have been turned on and breakfast supplies laid out (well, first breakfast, anyway.  Second breakfast, or brunch, comes later).

Depending on how many are here, the getting-up time can stretch almost to noon, with some sleeping in the living room moving into a vacated bed upstairs to lounge just a bit longer.

The quiet of the morning moves to a burst of activity and levity as the gathered come full awake.  Laughter and lounging go together in my family: we do both really well, especially when we can do them at the same time.

Then there’s stand-before-the-refrigerator time as each forages for lunch or mid-afternoon snack.  One hunger breeds another as we all process in a semi-line to find something to eat, proclaiming there’s nothing on hand that suits as we stand in front of a loaded frig and wonder where all the food went.

Late afternoon is for football and napping.

Evening - supper and coming alive again with laughter and games and more laughter and more games, some being drug into the fun others have organized; some hating games but loving their fellow gamesters enough to play along, a child’s voice moving from the edge to the middle and back out again whenever the next diversion catches the young eye.

Nighttime – back to quiet and talk winding down the day, remembering times past, yearning for the moment to last – just a bit longer.  Sleep.  Awake again and repeat until the final day when the detritus of travel home is thrown into cases and bags and flung into cars and SUVs that head back home from home, with me standing out back waving good-bye, running to the front to catch them again, just one more time, standing and smiling through the tears in the rearview mirror.

Ordinary time resumed, I walk back inside, carrying the missing of them . . . until the next time.

Nothing particularly wondrous or amazing happens whenever my family gathers, yet it is still, somehow, holy ground, a prayer, if you will, this time measured in moments and memories.

*Miserere: from the Latin for “have mercy on me, O God”.  The Free Dictionary  I do not know whether it was a short form prayer or a recitation of the entirety of Psalm 51 from which it is taken.

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