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A Rosary Story View Comments
By Brian Doyle

I’LL TELL YOU A STORY about one rosary and let it stand for so very many of these lovely, silent, haunting companions in our pockets and cars and purses and drawers and under pillows and wrapped around the hands of the dead.

This rosary was made 80 years ago by a boy in the woods of Oregon. He was a timber feller working so deep in the woods there were no roads, and the men and boys rode into camp on mules. He was 17 years old that summer and very lonely.

One evening he began to carve rosary beads from cedar splits otherwise destined for the fire. He tried to carve a bead a night sitting by the fire. With each bead he would try to remember the story of the bead as his mother had told him. There were the joyful mysteries of good news and visiting cousins and new babies and christenings and finding children whom you feared were lost utterly.

There were the sorrowful mysteries of men weeping in the dark and men beating men and men jeering and taunting men and men torturing men and men murdering men under the aegis of the law.

There were the glorious mysteries of life defeating death and light returning against epic darkness and epiphanies arriving when no doors or windows seemed open to admit them and love defeating death and the victory of that we know to be true against all evidence that it is not.

When he had cut a bead for each of these stories he was finished, for there were at that time no luminous mysteries on which to ponder and pray.

He threaded thin copper wire through each of the beads, setting the mysteries apart with a larger bead cut from yew, and he carved a cross from the shinbone of an elk. He thought about trying to carve a Christ also, but the thought of carving Christ made him uncomfortable. Anyway, he did not think he had the skill, and he did not want to ask one of the older men, some of whom were superb carvers, so he left the cross unadorned, as he said, and put the rosary in his pocket. He carried it with him every day the rest of his life.

The rosary went with him through Italy and North Africa in the war, and into the wheat fields of Oregon, and back into the woods where he again cut timber for a while, and then all through his travels as a journalist on every blessed muddy road from Canada to California, as he said, and through his brief, but very happy, years in retirement by the sea, where his rosary acquired a patina of salt from the mother of all oceans, as he said.

He had the rosary in his pocket the day he was on his knees in his garden and leaned forward and placed his face upon the earth and died, almost 70 years after he finished carving the rosary in the deep woods as a boy.

His wife carried the rosary in her pocket for the next two years until the morning she died in her bed, smiling at the prospect of seeing her husband by evening, as she told their son.

The son carried the rosary in his pocket for the next three days until the moment when he and I were walking out of the church, laughing at one of his father’s thousand salty stories of life in the woods and in the war and in the fields and on the road and by the sea, at which point the son handed it to me and said, “Dad wanted you to have it,” and hustled away to attend to his wife and children and brothers and nieces and nephews.

I wept. Sure, I did. You would weep, too. Sure you would.

I have the rosary in my pocket now. I hope to carry it every day the rest of my life, and jingle it absentmindedly, and pray it here and there when I have a moment in the sun, and place it ever so carefully and gently on a shelf every night before I go to bed, touching the elk-bone cross with a smile in memory of my friend George, until the morning of my own death, when I pray for a last few moments of grace in which to hand it to my son, and then close my eyes and go to see the One for whom it was made, who made us. Amen.



Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon. His most recent book is Grace Notes(ACTA).

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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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