William K. Wolfrum's picture

    The Road to Carnival 3: Let us pray

    As the clock ticked down on her life, my Mom never called out to God. She called out to my Dad, and even occasionally to her older brother, who was her protector when she was a child. Still, when the devout Christians in our family offered to pray with her, she always accepted. And being an eyewitness to several of these prayer sessions, I can say with absolute confidence that the prayers meant something to her and gave her peace. In that way, there is no doubt that every prayer said in her presence was answered, just by being given.

    Being an atheist, I suppose I had always wondered how I would be affected by dramatic times such as my Mom’s brave final year. And, in all honesty, my lack of faith neither helped nor hurt me during those times. In a strictly personal sense, it never really came into play. But I was touched by the faith of others, to be sure. I was touched by their love and how they expressed it. More than anything, I was touched by the small smile and look of peace my Mom had when others prayed for her and with her. As a lifelong Catholic, it mattered to her, and so it mattered to me. My beliefs were purely irrelevant.

    The last 15 months have been turbulent for me, and I still struggle with it all. But early on during this experience, I discovered a peace in myself in regard to religion. My narcissism was washed away. And while I came to understand my own beliefs better, I learned that my beliefs were just that – mine. And somehow through that, I reached a peace and acceptance of the beliefs of others.

    So last night, when I found myself in a strange neighborhood attending a religious party, I had no interest in being skeptical of anything. I just wanted to experience the joy that religion was bringing others.

    Fabinho – the dance instructor who is working desperately to loosen my hips and bring out Emilia’s inner Brasileira as we prepare to be part of the Imperatriz Leopoldinense Samba School during Carnival 2009 in Rio – invited us to this party. It was called a Party of the Kings, in honor of the three kings who came to visit Jesus on his birth. But it was much more than that. Because it was both a belated party for the Kings, but also a party to celebrate life.

    The party was held at Fabinho’s home and was put together and paid for by his family. The party was held for Fabinho’s mother, Nausa. You see, Nausa had her own experience with cancer in 2007 and 2008. And after a long period of prayer and promises to God – as well as free medical treatment from Brazil’s universal health care system – Nausa is free of cancer. And the party was to repay those promises, and share food, prayer, fireworks and joy with friends and family.

    One of the interesting aspects of Catholicism in Brazil is how in some parts of the nation it has been partially fused with beliefs brought over from Africa. Nowhere is this more commonplace than in the state of Bahia. There, the opulence of Catholic churches – at least one that I’ve seen that is gold plated top to bottom – combines with the African beliefs of the many descendants of slaves to create something that is far more joyous and more oriented to the faithful than anything you’ll find in the U.S. This is not your grandmother’s Catholicism, by any means.

    Nonetheless, at Nausa’s party, I was able to follow along easily with the Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s and Ave Maria’s the party goers recited. Following the prayer session, a band played, with Nausa and her children giving thanks to God for answering their prayers.

    The copious amounts of food – pasta, rice and beans, chicken and a desert made from papaya – was delicious and given out free to all who came. In fact, it was given out to any who asked, including a couple men who were drunk and showed up. And Nausa and Fabinho made sure they both received a hot meal, and were treated respectfully.

    What hit home for Emilia and I was the love for family and friends that emanated from everyone there. We were outsiders but brought into the fold. We were treated no differently from anyone there. We were accepted and treated with the ultimate in kindness by individuals from all stations in life

    We didn’t get to spend much time talking with Fabinho, who busily made sure all the guests were taken care of and entertained. But we quickly made friends, including with the numerous children that Emilia let cut in front of us in the line for food. But I did get to talk about him a little about our shared experience.

    “Our whole family was crazy with worry, but we never stopped praying,” said Fabinho. “And now she’s healthy. Graças a Deus.”

    Never have my own beliefs or lack thereof mattered less. And while the Hail Mary’s and other prayers had little importance to me, they did to them. A family that had fought through the terror of cancer and come through the other side, more alive and filled with love than ever. And ready and willing to share that love with any and all. And I thought of my Mom in only the best of ways all night, because of them.

    Graças a Deus.


    See Also:

    Samba Bill and the Road to Carnival, Part 1
    Samba Bill and the Road to Carnival, Part 2



    Wolfie, this made me cry. There is so much of my own life wrapped up in what you write: feeling such a warm sense of belonging on my trip to Brazil, wondering if my atheism would hold when my mom died (it did), and living through her long illness and accepting, gratefully, condolences from people who loved her, even when they were steeped in religious faith. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    Thanks, O. I'm sorry you (or anyone) has to go thru lives hardships. But we all do and all will. Life is absurd that way.

    Wonderful post, Wolfie.

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