Standing in line at the post office, I was thinking about a sick friend when all of a sudden words came to my lips. The older gentleman in front of me chuckled and said, “I do that too.” “What?” I asked. “Talk to myself,” he said. I wasn’t talking to myself. I was doing something I’d picked up from my great-grandmother a long time ago.
Both of my parents worked. I stayed with my great-grandmother during the day. Granma was a tiny woman with blue eyes and long white hair wound up in a stately bun. She was too frail to play with me, but could read to me or tell me stories about her childhood back in Ireland. She taught me to play dominoes and showed me how to fold a newspaper and cut it into all kinds of fun shapes.
At naptime she’d tuck me in and close the door. Still, I could hear her talking to herself while she did the chores. I could never make out what she was saying. Finally I asked her who she was talking to. “God,” Granma answered matter-of-factly.
“But isn’t he up there?” I said, pointing to the ceiling.
“He’s everywhere, darlin’,” Granma said. “And he hears every word.”
At the age of five I got an infection in my left leg. It swelled up and turned every color of the rainbow. My temperature soared. Back then the only treatment was cold compresses. Dr. Ward made a house call and from the way everybody was whispering, I knew something serious was going on. Mom and my stepfather took time off to be with me, and Granma moved in.
She sat in a big overstuffed chair next to my bed. Even in my fever I could hear her murmur, a low comforting sound. One night I woke to see her changing the compress. My leg was still hot, swollen three times its normal size.
She settled back in her chair and went on talking. I listened as hard as I could. “God,” she was saying, “this little girl has a terrible infection. Dr. Ward is afraid he’ll have to amputate her leg. There is no medicine that can help. But you can heal her, precious Lord. That’s what I’m asking you to do.” I should have found her words frightening, but they weren’t. So soft, so soothing, they lulled me to sleep.
The next morning Dr. Ward was beside my bed. “Good morning, Phyllis,” he said gravely. He put his thermometer under my tongue. He pulled the covers aside and examined my leg.
“Elsie! Ray!” he called to my parents. “Come look at this!” Craning my neck, I peered down. The colors had faded. My leg wasn’t even hot anymore.
“Looks like she’s going to be all right,” Dr. Ward said. “Her fever is gone.”
That night I told my mother about Granma’s prayer. “This time, I heard every word, Mom,” I said.
She took my hands in hers. “So did God.”
God would have heard those words even if they had never been spoken, if they’d remained in Granma’s heart. But over the years I’ve found myself talking to him like she did. It reminds me that he’s with me everywhere—even in line at the post office.