I walked through the Lakewood Sheriff's Station parking lot on Sunday and noticed, lying in an eroded patch of asphalt in one of the stalls, a rosary. I picked it up. It was made of olive wood.
I thought the rosary had been broken in being run over by a car pulling out of the station, or it had been lost because the cord tying the beads into groups of ten had become undone.
Because even a discarded rosary means something to me, however tenuous, I planned to dispose of it respectfully.
But the string of beads in my hand was undamaged. I turned its cross over. The cross was stamped in blurred black ink on the olive wood, not all the letters complete, with the rosary's place of origin: Jerusalem.
A tourist's memento or more likely something bought in a "Catholic articles" shop for ten or eleven dollars and made in a factory.
I thought for a moment of all the reasons why someone might be holding a rosary in the parking lot of a police station and why a broken rosary might fall from someone's hand.
The sheriff's parking lot was deserted. If I had stepped into the station to find a deputy who would take this bit of "lost and found" I might have waited for some time. I might have had an awkward conversation about why I brought the rosary into the station. I might have felt that flinch of otherness that Catholics sometimes feel when small matters of their faith leak into non-Catholic world.
A rosary is a counting device for a pattern of endlessly recurring prayers. It's a recursive loop that can be entered and left through the cross that's appended to it. It's superficially the repetition of a petition -- "pray for us now and at the hour of our death" -- said as a blunt imperative as a child or someone frightened might say.
The rosary that might be carried in a pocket or a purse -- or worn around the neck as a fashion statement or magical charm -- is a miniature of the real thing. The whole rosary is fifteen groups of ten beads (a decade) with another bead as a divider between each group. If you had gone to a Catholic elementary school in the 1950s, the nun in here burka-like black habit would have a fifteen-decade rosary drawn through her belt.
The rattle and click of so many wooden beads against each other and against the edge of a pupil's desk are a permanent sensory memory for former Catholic school kids now in their 60s.
I was going to take the rosary I had picked up and went some yards further when, thinking better of it, I turned back.
There is a row of thick pillars, about four feet tall, spaced evenly along the open walkway in front of the sheriff's station. The pillars are decorative enough, but their purpose is to stop a car from being driven through the station's entrance. They're an inconspicuous part of our now permanent fear.
I put the rosary in top of the pillar nearest the parking stall where I had found it.
On Monday morning, I walked through the parking lot again. The rosary was gone. The loop, as I saw it, was still unbroken.