Today, I have decided to retire my rosary. This choice is not indicative of a departure from my Catholic faith but rather stems from a fear of losing my belief in God entirely. While I have my reasons for this decision, allow me to begin by recounting the origin of my relationship with the beads.
It all started during my early years in primary school. Unlike those who were born into Catholicism, I actively chose to embrace this faith and enjoyed every bit of it. I had the privilege of selecting my Catholic name, rather than being assigned one of those conventional names handed down from previous generations. I received my first rosary on the day of my baptism. The excitement was unparalleled.
I wore it constantly, both figuratively and literally. I adorned it with every outfit, regardless of its aesthetic suitability, and even went so far as to wear it while bathing and sleeping, despite the inherent risks of the latter. I amassed a collection of rosaries and black Catholic medals, transforming my neck into a kaleidoscope of religious adornments. Nevertheless, my attachment to the rosary extended beyond mere fashion.
Its true significance became apparent one night during an evening prep session at my boarding school when our class fell victim to the ire of a teacher, perturbed by our excessive noise. Fear instantly gripped me, as I was and still am cowardly by nature.
Imagining the sting of the cane on that chilly evening, and the discomfort it would cause as it struck through the thin fabric of my skirt, I grasped my rosary and began to silently recite the Hail Mary prayer. This was the first prayer Sister Maria Goretti, our catechist, had taught us. She had instilled in us the belief that reciting three Hail Marys, three Glory Bes, and three Our Fathers in times of danger, with unwavering faith, would invite miracles into our lives. And so, at that moment, I complied with her teachings.
Astonishingly, when the teacher reached my desk, she glanced at me as if I were invisible and proceeded to chastise the other students, while they stared at me with a mix of bewilderment and betrayal. I remained undeterred, for I had experienced my first miracle, and thus commenced my lifelong journey with the rosary.
The teacher later explained that she refrained from punishing me because she had been observing the commotion from outside the classroom window, and had witnessed me engrossed in my reading while others engaged in disruptive behavior (I had developed the habit of placing a novel within my study book, feigning diligent revision.) I expressed my gratitude to God that she hadn’t discovered my ruse.
This pattern continued throughout my academic and personal life whenever I found myself in a precarious situation. Be it awaiting examination results or having broken something at home and dreading confessing to my mother, or misplacing something of great importance, I would reach for my rosary, and miraculously, a resolution would manifest itself. I wholeheartedly trusted the rosary with my deepest concerns. I would promptly replace it each time it broke as I found myself unable to sleep without it. In retrospect, I now realize that I had begun to treasure the rosary even more than God Himself—a mistake for which I have paid dearly as an adult.
My grandmother, whom we affectionately called Jaaja (meaning grandmother), had always been in robust health. We even bestowed upon her a nickname that epitomized her strength—Jaaja Kabode. It was a rarity to see her unwell for more than a day. She resembled more of a sister to her children and an Aunt to us.
In her early sixties, she suffered a brain clot. Initially, we were unaware of it and assumed she was experiencing a mental breakdown, as her behavior had become erratic. We consulted a psychiatrist who prescribed medication that seemed to calm her down, leading us to believe she was recovering. Unfortunately, she later got worse and that’s when the doctors discovered the presence of a brain clot and at that point, it was already too late. Did I mention that this occurred a week before my graduation?
Jaaja had been hospitalized for a week and the family had made arrangements for me to be her caretaker at the hospital, after my graduation ceremony. Being the only one without a job and school, I could devote myself fully to her needs. Consequently, I spent the entire week leading up to the ceremony reciting the rosary, even incorporating a few novenas. I prayed fervently, maintaining unwavering faith that she would be alright. Additionally, there had been slight signs of improvement the day before, which alleviated any concerns.
The graduation ceremony proceeded smoothly. We captured some photographs, although my mother was absent from them as she had rushed back to the hospital to visit Jaaja. This made me sad. I wanted her in the photos since the only reason I was able to go to school was that she did all she could to make sure I never lacked. As we were heading home to celebrate my graduation, we received a devastating phone call informing us of Jaaja’s passing.
I cannot adequately convey the depth of my emotions at that moment. Not only had God seemingly failed to answer my prayers, but it had to happen on that very day—the day meant for celebration! I do not think that I have ever cried as intensely as I did on my graduation day. Anger and defeat overwhelmed me completely.
Naturally, the celebration swiftly transformed into a somber vigil. “Congratulations” morphed into “We are so sorry for your loss.” Everyone cast sorrowful gazes upon me. If given the chance, I would gladly erase that day from my memory. That experience left me incredibly apprehensive, to the point where I am afraid of being excited about anything, lest something terrible might happen and ruin it.
We laid Jaaja to rest two days later, and life moved on but gradually, my faith in the rosary began to waver. I ceased wearing it around my neck, though I still kept it with me in my bag.
We all have that special adult in our lives with whom we can discuss anything, regardless of the age difference. There are no inhibitions or restrictions on topics of conversation. We connect with them as effortlessly as we would with a friend at school. Whenever there’s something we want to know about but are too afraid to ask our mothers, we turn to this person.
In my life, that person was Aunt Bridget. She possessed a vibrant and jovial nature, making it easy for everyone to forge a bond with her. Whether young or old, wealthy or poor, Aunt Bridget treated everyone with the same warmth. She never allowed her challenges to dampen her spirit. If you were to meet her, you would likely assume she had no worries of her own, as she radiated perpetual happiness.
One afternoon, my mother called me urging me to contact Aunt Bridget’s children and request their immediate presence at the hospital. Aunt Bridget had collapsed due to a severe headache.
Upon arrival at the hospital, we were informed that Aunt Bridget had suffered a stroke, necessitating her transfer to a more specialized ICU facility.
Overwhelmed with fear yet again, I found myself on my knees, beseeching for her to regain consciousness and comprehend that she was not alone. I implored her to find the strength to fight, emphasizing that her entire family stood by her side. I recited the rosary and fervently prayed through numerous novenas for the sick. Unfortunately, despite our collective efforts, Aunt Bridget’s condition deteriorated, and she succumbed within a mere two weeks.
I couldn’t help but take offense. What had I done wrong? Perhaps this practice of prayer was somehow contributing to the loss of my loved ones. Maybe I lacked the worthiness to stand in God’s presence and seek His favor. After all, he used to answer my prayers promptly and abundantly as a child. Why not now as an adult who had more to lose? I found myself considering a single explanation: God may have become envious of my deep attachment to the rosary. Doesn’t it say that He is a jealous God?
Alternatively, it occurred to me that I may have committed numerous sins in my adult life, causing God to withdraw his presence from my life. Still, despite these doubts, I clung to the hope that I was mistaken.
I had the privilege of having a remarkable friend in my life, whom I will refer to as Angel for her truly angelic nature. Despite my shortcomings as a dependable friend, she remained steadfast and unyielding. While others drifted away due to the responsibilities of motherhood, work-related travel, or the weariness of maintaining a draining friendship, Angel stayed by my side. She actively included me in her weekend plans, reaching out to me every day with conversations that spanned an entire spectrum of topics. No one celebrated my birthday with as much fervor and enthusiasm as she did. Every weekend, it was just the two of us, exploring new restaurants, and sharing laughter over the most trivial matters.
My job, unfortunately, does not offer substantial financial rewards or significant career growth. Consequently, I couldn’t afford to partake in every place Angel suggested we visit. Whenever I happened to express my concerns, she reassured me not to worry and said that she always accounted for me in her budget planning for the month. Her thoughtfulness filled me with a mixture of guilt and inadequacy at times but I remained grateful to have someone like her in my life.
I grew so accustomed to her companionship that I felt no need for additional friendships. She was enough.
In 2020, Angel developed a persistent cough. Initially, we suspected that it might be COVID-19, prompting her to rush to hospital for testing. To our relief, the diagnosis revealed it was merely an infection that could be treated with medication. However, weeks passed and her cough did not go away as expected. It eventually started to affect her breathing. She underwent further tests to identify the cause of the endless cough.
It took a series of misdiagnoses and ineffective treatments for her to be informed that she had reached stage four cancer and that also her left lung had collapsed. The cancer had spread extensively throughout the left side of her body.
I was beyond myself. How could this be? Angel was one of the healthiest individuals I knew. She abstained from smoking, drinking, and any other habits she considered unhealthy despite my teasing eye rolls.
Angel stayed calm despite the alarming news. She was a woman of profound faith and believed she could conquer the disease. Her unwavering belief became infectious. It inspired me to have faith too. She explored various treatment options as recommended by specialists, while her friends shared uplifting stories of relatives who had overcome cancer through faith and prayer. We embarked on a fervent prayer journey.
Initially, I had vowed not to recite the rosary for my friend as it hadn’t proven effective in the past. Instead, I engaged in other forms of prayer. I still harbored a sense of responsibility for the deaths of my loved ones, convinced that my sins were the cause.
In retrospect, I now realize the irrationality of such a belief.
At that time, lockdown restrictions were in place, preventing me from visiting Angel. Our communication relied on WhatsApp or text messages. I could sense the immense pain she must have endured in each voice note she sent. The absence of her friends by her side only exacerbated her suffering. I contacted her home immediately after the lockdown was lifted, intending to visit. I was instead told to go see her at the hospital where she had been rushed due to breathing difficulties during the night.
As I entered the ward, I desperately fought to conceal my emotions. I could no longer recognize my dear friend. Her weight loss was significant. She struggled to string together even the smallest sentence amidst bouts of coughing. Her entire body writhed in agony. Helpless, I just looked on since there was nothing I could say or do to make her be in less pain. It was an inexplicable injustice that such a genuinely kind-hearted person had to endure.
Returning home, I sought help in the only source I had left—my rosary. I clung to it with a renewed determination, pouring every ounce of faith into prayer. I was on my knees, determined to beseech a miracle. It was a level of devotion I had not experienced before.
Exhausted, I eventually succumbed to sleep, but deep down, I had a foreboding sense that Angel’s time was drawing near. Little did I anticipate that it would arrive so swiftly, only a week later.
Since her passing, life has been an endless drain, permeated by a sense of loss. Everywhere I go, reminders of our shared experiences saturate my surroundings. Angel was the one friend who understood my idiosyncrasies, and now she is gone.
My dear reader, after much contemplation, I have decided to retire the rosary. It seems more convenient to attribute blame to inanimate beads than to question the divine will above. After all, who are we if we have nothing to believe in?
I am well aware that everyone faces hardships in life, and I do not seek to elicit pity or create a spectacle. However, there are moments when one simply needs to embrace vulnerability. This dear reader, is my moment.
Image: hmarusic on Unsplash modified