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I sat across from her unable to take my eyes away, entranced by the weathered hands whose long, slender fingers wrapped around the tiny gold cross hanging on her neck. She slid it side to side, left to right, over and over again and I was mesmerized by the repetitive motion. I watched the cross swing on its matching gold chain at times of its own volition, others with a purpose it seemed only she understood. Much time would pass before I understood the meaning of it, not the meaning of the man who died on a much larger scale of the small cross, rather what it meant to the woman who loyally wore it.
As a little girl, I found myself looking for the hint of gold against her chest each time I visited. I walked closer to greet her, my eyes searched for it. As she held me at arm’s length, steps before I reached her, commenting on how much I had grown since the last time she saw me, I looked for it. Younger still, I can recall my small hands reaching for it as she held me in her lap and rocked me to sleep. She never pulled it out of my grasp the way other adults yanked things out of reach of a young toddler for fear of destruction. Instead, she let me soothe myself to sleep, my tiny fingers rubbing the gold until I drifted off into peaceful slumber.
Through the years, it was always there. And, as I got older I noticed she not only held onto it during the happiest of times as though thanking the Lord for all he had blessed her with but also in the saddest of times like when we learned of my father’s cancer diagnosis. She held it as she watched her daughter, my mother, absorb the news. And, as she watched my mother I watched her as the pain in my mom’s eyes reflected in her own. I leaned forward a bit as though in so doing I would be able to make out her plea as her lips moved in unison with the motion of the swaying cross. Back and forth, left and right, over and over again she slid the cross, her lips rapidly moving in a whispered prayer.
At those times, she seemed to wrap her fingers around it a little tighter, begging for it to provide more. More what?
Strength? Hope? Faith?
I would sense the urgency in the way she held the cross, and desperately slid it back and forth on its chain. By then, the once smooth skin it had rested upon when I was a child, was now etched with line upon line – each representing her walk of faith, her life’s journey. At times, the lines intersected on her wrinkled skin. I sat and wondered if perhaps there were paths that led her to other paths, each presenting a trial she was meant to endure, an experience that would shape the woman she became. Some lines seemed to have no direction, no beginning and no end, as though they consisted of choices left unmade or decisions changed at a certain point in time. However, it was clear to me even then that each line told a bit of her story, perhaps, because I can’t recall an occasion when I didn’t see it on her.
My grandmother always had it on her person, close to her heart and often reached for it. I think it kept her grounded, a constant reminder of her faith and something greater than her in this world.
Years later, as I entered the hospital room and approached the bed in which she was taking her last breath, my eyes immediately searched for the tiny gold cross. At that point, I needed the strength it always seemed to bring her. I needed the feeling of peace I had seen on her face after she held that symbol of faith in her hands time after time. As I looked at her chest where the hospital gown was pushed back a bit to reveal a hint of gold, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The lines were now many, blanketing her body like a road map of sorts and I like to think that’s exactly what they were. A road map of her life, her experiences, but most importantly her undying faith. And as I reached for the tiny gold cross that had become a symbol of comfort in my young eyes, I realized that it was so much more than that. Seeing it now through the eyes of a woman, I understood what it meant to my grandmother and in my times of doubt, during moments of desperation, I find myself holding the tiny cross that sits close to my own heart. I can’t help but pray that in the end my life’s road map is as beautifully etched as hers.