Finneran: The Nun on the Bench
Friday, December 21, 2018
Tom Finneran, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™
She was impossible to miss.
It was a sweltering July morning and she was in a full-length light brown nun’s habit.
She carried her rosary beads openly and her head was bowed in prayer.
I happened to be between appointments in City Hall and I had stepped outside for a few minutes. I walked to the Holocaust Memorial, intent on spending a few quiet moments in that shrine to the murdered.
The panels of the Memorial are brutal reminders of man’s capacity for evil. The inscriptions on those panels are devastatingly human in their memories of wives torn from husbands, of children torn from mothers, of parents slaughtered, and of infants gored.
The nun seemed to be a world away, in a spiritual place where the souls of the innocent find peace and rest. She paused thoughtfully before each panel as if in need of strength. The rosary moved reverentially in her hands as she prayed.
The scene will stay with me forever.
The nun’s habit hid most of her physical features. Yet I could see enough of her face to know that she was a young woman, certainly not of the generation of World War II. Perhaps her father, but more likely her grandfather had served in that hideous conflict. Perhaps an older relative had participated in the Allied liberation of Hitler’s death camps. Perhaps her presence there was more happenstance than planned. But I think not.
Can there be such a thing as spontaneous deliberation? I was certainly there out of a spontaneous desire to see more, read more, and think more and to separate myself, if only for a few moments, from the frenzied pace of modern life. Once there, inside the Memorial, it is impossible to shrug away the barbarism of the deeds.
So too it seemed for the nun. I have no idea about the spontaneity of her visit but her deliberation was pronounced. She moved at such a stately pace, seemingly reluctant to turn away from the pagan evils recorded there. Each panel held her undivided attention. Each inscription had to wound her heart.
A stop at the Memorial cannot be just another quick hit on our list of things to see and do. A stop there provokes thought, regret, sadness, and determination. It also provokes prayer, likely even from the most strident of atheists.
My last view of the nun was as she was seated on a bench, deep in prayer. I’d like to think that the nun and her rosary moved and stirred and comforted her long deceased Jewish brothers and sisters, those six million souls whose sunrises were obliterated by human hate.
May God bless the nun on the bench. May God bless the souls of the slaughtered.
Peace on earth and goodwill to all.
Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.