I went to Catholic school.
And, in the grand curriculum of all things holy and spirity and mean, somewhere along the line, I had to learn all the words to Hail, Mary by heart.
Fourth or fifth grade maybe?
I don’t know. The point is, there are only, like, ten lines, and I couldn’t do it.
Everyday for a week, classmate after classmate stood up, recited the prayer, and got one of those cool bensia pencils, the ones where when the lead wasn’t sharp anymore, you just pulled the tip off, shoved it in the bottom, and a sharp new tip popped up. They came in purple and yellow and said the words “He’s Within Me” on the side.
I wanted one so badly, and never mind that I already had eight of those Lisa Frank bensia pencils in my desk, or that they had the tagline from some weird barely legal stigmata S&M movie on the side.
I was the only person in my whole class that never got one.
It was devastating on the scale of how things are devastating for about 6-8 hours, and then you forget and focus on other more important devastating things, like how you’re the only one who’s parents only make sandwiches on ugly wheat bread or how you’d totally have a boyfriend by now if you didn’t have to wear these stupid gigantic glasses, FUCK YOU ASTIGMATISM.
I’m happy to report, that much like math, or science, or any of those other worthless things that they insist you need to learn in school because you will totally use it when you grow up, the memorization of Hail, Mary has been an adulthood non-issue for me.
Does Mary need to be Hailed? Sure.
By memory? No.
Reciting the words from the back page of the Mass pamphlet, hungover, at the 8am service your mom makes you attend once a month to keep your sin points in check, doesn’t make it any less benevolent.
But, last weekend, in the middle of the night, I found myself sitting in a crawl space with three freaked out kids piled on top of me, listening to tornado sirens and wind as loud as trains beat against our homes, trying to remember the words to that fucking prayer.
Andy was away for work.
It was pitch black.
I had recited everything else I could think to recite at that point that would maybe help us not die.
The Our father.
Day by Day from Godspell.
But, I could not find the words to Hail, Mary.
Not even in that time of absolute desperation and distress. Like, how in extreme situations, average people can lift cars off of babies, or see Jesus’ bloody face on toast, none of that was happening for me in that crawl space.
I was all, fuck, please don’t smite me. Is smite the right word? OMG, I don’t know, but I’m totally gonna make this up right now, and I’m gonna use old sounding words to make it more official. Is that ok? Please say it’s ok, because these kids do not deserve to die in a tornado because I couldn’t learn the words and get that stupid pencil, which probably wasn’t even my fault, because, and I don’t like to make excuses, but I took a test in last month’s Parents magazine, and it’s very likely that I have this really specific type of learning disorder that selectively blocks out the ability to retain super important information in favor of less valuable stuff like movie quotes and drink recipes.
So, I said this bizarre version of Hail, Mary. I started off right, but then I got off course, and I think by the end I was reciting words from that What If God Was One of Us song by Joan Osborne.
I don’t know.
But, it worked.
Nobody calling on the phone. ‘Cept for the pope maybe in Rome. Amen.