It wasn’t November, like it is now, the month for remembering those who have already crossed over the Great Divide.
It was January, and it was cold.
On the day of the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, as a housewife in the DC suburbs, it was important to me that the children and I make an appearance. We would augment the crowd by six, and the children, I knew, would be excited to see the happy hundreds of thousands of people who share our pro-life convictions.
We drove down the gloomy roads, wind buffeting the van while I made a mental inventory of the warm clothes we carried. Hat, gloves, jacket, and snow pants for each child, plus boots with wool socks and a blanket to wrap around the stroller.
I hoped I had everything, and turned down the heat in the car so the children in their layers wouldn’t get too hot. We passed a roadside cross with the name ‘Amanda’ emblazoned on it. Reflexively, everyone but the baby began to recite St. Gertrude’s prayer. The prayer that releases one thousand souls from Purgatory when recited.
Eternal Father, I offer you
The Most Precious Blood
Of your divine son, Jesus,
In union with all the Masses
Said throughout the world today,
For all the holy souls in Purgatory,
For sinners everywhere,
For sinners in the Universal Church,
Those in my own home,
And within my family.
“Five people praying, that’s five thousand souls, right there,” I calculated aloud.
But it sounded kind of hokey. Like an ancient superstition.
I toyed with the thought, mentally exploring its implications. If the prayer is only a superstition, what about Purgatory? If no Purgatory, what about the Communion of Saints? If yes Purgatory, do those in Purgatory really need our prayers? Can those already in Heaven truly hear our prayers? Can they honestly turn to God, in whose presence they stand, and ask him to help us?
“Amanda,” I prayed, addressing the girl who had died by the side of the road, whose cross inspired our prayer this and every time we passed, “can you really hear? Can you really pray for us? Do our prayers really help the people in Purgatory?”
I thrust the matter from my mind and focused on getting all of us on the Metro and downtown.
A feat which required quite a bit of concentration.
Emerging from the shelter of the underground station, we were immediately blasted by the icy east wind. I took the baby from the stroller and tucked him into a sling which I zipped inside my jacket. The top of the jacket I left open so the baby could get some fresh air in his 98.7 degree cave. He was warm, but I wished I had brought a scarf for my now-exposed neck.
Each child put a hand on the stroller, and we bumped and careened across the lumpy frozen grass of the National Mall on the way to the White House lawn for the opening ceremonies. The wind drove its bitter fingers into every crevice, and I pulled the children close, bending my head against the onslaught.
Which is when I noticed the scarf.
It was bright red, and lay in a frozen, twisted line like a piece of joy abandoned on a dune of depression.
We were some steps beyond it when I contradicted my own thoughts. No. If someone was going to come back to find it, they would have come already, before it froze into the brownish grass. I wheeled the stroller around and tugged the scarf from the frozen ground.
I shook it hard, sending bits of frozen organic material flying.
“Right on!” I thought. “God knew I needed a scarf, and look how he provided!”
I laid the scarf on the seat of the stroller with the blanket and the extra jacket. In case any germs on it still needed to be frozen off.
That’s when I saw the tag.
Machine stitched in brown letters on the scarf’s white tag, were the words, “Amanda Smith.”
In case I ever wondered again.
The number ’42’ on the tag was subsequently written by a one of our children as an identification mark before embarking on an unwelcome journey. The child took the scarf as a reminder of our big brothers and sisters in the faith who watch over us and pray for us.
I love it when God leaves us a tangible reminder!