My niece collects shells and stones and sea glass. On the mantle of her Cape house, in a pile on an iron table on the back deck, along the windowsill in her kitchen, she has left mementos of beach walks and wilderness hikes. By this point her son, close to three years old, has made his contributions as well. It does not take a lot of imagination for me to hear her words of encouragement to him as he looks for shells, her words of astonishment when he shows her what he has found, her words of thanks after he hands her one.
Her vacation home has become a safe haven at times for members of the family. It was an obvious location when I thought of taking a couple of days in this unseasonably warm March to breath different air. A friend got it right when he suggested that I was looking for contemplative time. Well before the regular season, Cape Cod roads and streets were quiet and at times empty. It was easy for me to get the feel of a mini-retreat.
I resisted packing the laptop and limited my books to one volume of Mary Oliver and the French translation of a spiritual journal by Pierre Favre. The writings of this sixteenth-century priest used to be favorite reading in my seminary days in my twenties. The soft-cover edition of Favre's Memoriale had been a purchase from a Paris bookstore during a summer stay in 1974. Packed amid boxes of books from recent moves, the volume was one of the mementos I uncovered in a basement clean-up a week ago. The paper cover showed rusty smudges from foxing that I had not seen before.
At a point during my Cape stay, I decided to do something that occurs regularly in Favre's journal. He used to pray to the angels guarding the different towns and cities through which he traveled. Addressing these angels, Favre would pray for guidance during his stay in each location.
Before the monotone winter landscape surrounding my niece's house, I prayed to the angels of that town. I prayed for the journey that had taken me from Paris in 1974 to this strange early spring of 2012. I prayed for the young man who had parted with twenty-nine francs to own a record of how memories in another man's heart had once been made and kept.