Naples, November 16, 2013

Today I spent the day in churches, lighting candles in memory of the dead, kneeling, praying. It’s a strange thing to do for an ex-Catholic but it’s the one place I feel closest to the dead in my life. I remember my first experience in a church: I was about five, I think, and staying in Brooklyn with my grandparents.

My grandfather took me to a ball game on Saturday afternoon and bought me a bag of multi-colored popcorn: red, blue, and white. It was, come to think of it a thousand years later, patriotic, but I didn’t know that then. Like the kid that I was, I just accepted it and held my grandfather’s big, strong hand. He was a big man who worked for the NYC sanitation department and could lift 100 pound cans of coal, open a beer bottle with his teeth, sing Neapolitan songs like all the men in my family, and had the saddest eyes in the sweetest smile. He would die a few years later from Parkinson’s Disease on the dining room table, having shrunk from 180 pounds to 110. But back then, on those weekends in Brooklyn, he would look down at me, rub his hand through my hair, rest his hand on my shoulder and smile as we watched our Brooklyn Dodgers play ball.

But back to churches.

That was my grandmother who took me to the nine o’clock mass on Sunday morning whenever I stayed there. She gave me my own Daily Missile which I still have with me, a pair or rosary beads, and I would sit in awe of the church, the ritual of the mass, the priest intoning the words in a language I didn’t understand but loved the sound of. Years later when I started going to mass again after my mother died, I sought out the only service in Latin at the church in Bayside where I was living at the time, because I just couldn’t listen to a mass in English. I wanted to hear those Latin tones and only then was my grandmother there with me saying her rosary.

My grandmother had candles burning in her room, the room she eventually died in, at our house after she moved in with us after my father’s death and I could see her at night, her hair down, sitting in a chair in front of the candles and the small statue of St.Joseph, which I have on my desk in Istanbul, saying her prayers. I will always think that’s what faith is, and wish some of it is somehow in me.

So today I lit candles, knelt, prayed, for my dead, and for the living who mean much to me. And though I’m not so sure anyone is listening, I pray anyway.

And that, today, is what faith means to me.