Ten thousand six hundred nineteen miles is a long way. 

But it’s not so long if it delivers you home … for the first time in three years.

Not such an odyssey if it leaves behind a war … and lands you on the other side of the world … back in the arms of your old life.

You are the fortunate son.

Ave Maria, Gratia Plena, Dominus Tecum.”

Mothers don’t pray like the rest of us.

I learned that long ago. As a boy.

Have a brother at war and you’ll learn lots of secrets about your Mother. She seemed the same lady … but she wasn’t. Everybody went about growing up. The house kept its beat … and the days seemed almost routine.

But not the nights. They were different.

No usual stuff. No suppers. No laundry. No drop-offs. No searches for missing gloves or lost cleats. No dashes for poster-board … and no whispers to grow up on. No rah-rahs from the stands. Nope. None of that.

The nights were reserved.

Set aside for her soldier-son. 

Far from home. Far from her.


And her nights were almost silent. Or so she thought. Because she imagined the house deep in sleep. So her prayer-murmurs seemed safe from the ears of others.

But the dark deceived her.

They were odd whispers. Breathy-soft … punctuated by “wiss” after “wiss“. That was the clue … the unmistakable give-away … that it was a prayer. The “wiss” told you so.

Everyone in that Catholic house knew the first line of that prayer … even in Latin.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum …”

And straight away you knew she was gone. To the other side of the world.  To whisper to her missing son. To hover him. To protect him. To even lay down her life for his … if she could.


You could hear her voice clear enough … because the silence was so silent.  We were awed by the sheer distance … my Mother was tormented by her sheer helplessness. Nothing prepared her for this.

She had no idea how to choke her fear. How to smother her fright. So she prayed. Until the rosary beads dangled from her hand … and sleep gave her a short furlough.

“Benedicta tu in mulieribus,et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.”

The Latin didn’t hide a thing. Not the dread. Not the fear. Not the fright. Just a few words … and you knew who she was talking to … and it wasn’t you.

“Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,”

You didn’t dare barge in on that moment. Too sacred. Too solemn. Because her words seemed so volumed-up … because the silence was so loud.

And you knew the next prayer-line. The hard line. And the one word that lumped her throat.

The one word … in the one phrase … she didn’t wanna say … but had no choice. Not if she wanted her son back.

“Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.” 

“Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Then there was a pause. Until it all began again. Over and over and over. Part prayer. Part mantra. Part beg.

And for years … those were the night sounds in that stuccoed house on Gramercy Place.

But then …

She was twirling in the air.

Whirling. Spinning.

In the arms of her soldier- son.


Her head flung back. Face toward the heavens.

Arms out-stretched.  Palms up.

Like Jesus …

when his was taken down from his cross.

And now she was taken down

from her cross.

And put in the arms of her son.

And she smiled as he carouseled her.

So, once again.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum …”

Denis Ian


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