Cherished books hold cherished stories – not only inspiring ones realized from words on a page, but stories of all those who have enjoyed them. And the older they are, the more they hold. A ripped page. A note in the margin. A coffee stain in the corner. They all add to the story: one that may be as much about the reader as the pages themselves.
While recently sifting through a pile of books that belonged to his late father, my husband lifted from the bottom of a worn cardboard box a miniature leather prayer book. Smaller than any missal, it fit snuggly in the palm of Patrick’s hand. As I leaned over for a look, he gently opened the cover, engraved with a small cross and hanging by the threads of its frayed binding. The scotch tape which had previously held the book together had left rust-colored marks on the front and back. Fragments of delicate paper fluttered onto the table as a sweet, musty scent emanated from the pages. Though yellowed, they were surprisingly still intact—all 522 of them—printed in a tiny, meticulous typeface. The English we could read, the Latin we attempted.
Devotions to the Sacred Heart. Ave, Regina coelorum! Rosary of Our Blessed Lady. Christe exaudi nos. Psalms and canticles. Gloria Patri.
Turning back to the title page, Patrick read, “With regards and affection as a token of fond remembrance 15/5/80.” The 15th of May, but not 1980. 1880! We held a piece of history, one that originated in Ireland almost 150 years ago but ended up in our basement in Connecticut. Though he knew this had belonged to his great grandmother from her maiden name inscribed near the sentiment, the gift giver and the occasion were a mystery.
As he passed it to me with care and reverence, I wondered of its journey and the stories it could tell. Why was the page with Prayers to St. Bridget slightly ripped and folded over? Did she read “Devout Method for Hearing Mass” often? Is that why those pages seemed softer, more worn? Was “A Prayer at Settling to Sleep” a nightly ritual? What about the tears and faded marks near the Gospel of John? I wondered what she felt as she held this in her hands as I did, a woman neither I nor even my husband had ever met, though one with whom we now shared a connection.
I did understand, though, how cherished it was, this “Manual of Devout Prayers, New Edition.” Though we found it at the bottom of an old box, it obviously had spent much time in someone’s careful hands, a bedside drawer, or a nearby shelf, read often and loved.
Days after discovering this, I continue returning to it, opening a random page and reading a psalm or Gospel passage which has transcended the ages. Like this woman from another time and place, I find comfort in these prayers and teachings—from an even further time and place—and know that though the pages are yellowed and the binding is frayed, the spirituality found within them endures.