When I was a little girl, evening prayers were part of our bedtime ritual. From as early as I could remember, my mother would kneel with me and my sisters at our bedside and lead us in prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I guess that explains my life-long struggle with insomnia. If there was a chance that I may die before I wake, I wasn’t about to fall asleep.
Then we learned “Our Father, who art in Heaven….” When I asked my mother who “Art” was, she explained, “You know, like your father, who art in the mill.” Oh, well. That made sense, since our dad worked in the steel mill. She was really good at explaining things. I swear she had a glint in her eye when she said that. My mother often had a gleam in her eye, especially at bedtime.
One night she looked visibly upset when she led us through our prayers. When we were finished, she told us we were adding one more prayer, “And let there be peace, all over the world.” We recited those words and crawled into bed.
It was obvious she was worried, and scared. I could hear her and my father talking in the next room, and I struggled to hear what they were saying. After all, if I wasn’t going to take the chance of falling asleep, I might as well be productive. I couldn’t make out their words, and in spite of my efforts I fell asleep.
The next few days were pretty tense. Not only were my parents solemn and preoccupied, all of the adults were as well. Our teachers were so distracted that they forgot to yell at us, and they gathered together in clusters to whisper among themselves. You know, the kind of behavior that always got us in trouble.
It took a few years for me to understand the tumultuous times in which we were living. Words like the “Cuban Missile Crisis” meant nothing to me except that it upset grownups. Once things began to return to normal, a young President was assassinated, and violence seemed to be all around us. “Let there be peace, all over the world.”
Here we are, many years later, and still living in tumultuous times. But, peace is a choice that each of us make; in our own lives, our thoughts, our hearts and our actions. It may not be the kind of peace that my Mom had in mind the evening she made up that prayer, but it’s a start. And it gives me the peace to sleep at night.