We grow up with fairy tales. As children we learn that if we clap our hands loud enough or we believe in something hard enough, Tinker Bell can be cured of poison or that a beautiful princess can rise from the dead. Once we mature, such innocent beliefs remain under the more formal veneer of prayers for the sick or the dying.
For that reason, I guess, it didn’t seem strange at all to be buying a prayer candle as part of our supplies for a 12-hour mountain-bike race.
Just as we were securing our bikes to the rack, my wife’s phone rang. Her sister delivered the nervous news: Nana had stopped eating.
At 108 years old. Nana, my wife’s grandmother, is Minnesota’s oldest currently living woman. It was only when she turned 104 that Nana stopped living on her own. Even in an assisted-living facility, Nana sparkles with life. She can out-eat even a bull of a man like me. She sings and can tell jokes as deftly as a headlining stand-up comic.
With a sparkle in eyes magnified through ridiculously thick eyeglasses, Nana has recounted to us how sometimes when she sleeps, she finds herself climbing up a staircase to a doorway, where a collection of deceased friends and loved ones beckon her to come home.
“I tell them I’m not ready, and I shut the door,” she says. “When I’m ready, I’ll go.”
For that reason, the news seemed to indicate that Nana had decided to forego nutrition in preparation for her final journey.
It was hard news to swallow, but during our sometimes-tearful four-hour drive to 12 Hours in tie Wild West, an endurance mountain-bike race in Fort Stanton, New Mexico–the stomping ground of Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett we decided we’d dedicate our ride to Nana. We had no cell-phone service out there in the boonies, so we were unable to gather any updates on her condition.
That evening before the race, as we assembled supplies at the grocery store, we selected a white prayer candle adorned with the Virgin of Guadalupe from the scented sea of saints and lucky charms adorning the store’s most desperate aisle the dispensary of religious articles, bug sprays and hardcore cleaning supplies. The next morning, at our little encampment in the high-desert scrub, we lit the candle and set it out on the cooler under our tarp. The tiny flame struggled to life.
“For Nana!” we said as my wife headed out to the starting line. (more…)