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March 4, 2005
Want these? the rector said with a smile, pointing to two old frames leaning against his office wall. Each contained an ornate illumination, one of the Lord's Prayer, beautifully done by hand and the other a very colorful lithograph of the 23rd Psalm, decorated with enormous flowers and scenes from the life of a very Anglo Jesus, with a snowy dove overseeing it all from the top of the print. They had not moved sold at the parish rummage sale, and the thrift shop didn't want them.

Well, they're not for everyone. They're not what you'd call sleek: don't look for them at Crate and Barrel. But oh, how they overflow with emotion, with a sweetness not found in nature, with a secure certainty that eludes us now.

I absolutely want them! I said, and so they leaned against his office wall for a little longer, untiI could bring the car and fetch them home.

So now they lean against my wall. My office, I thought, and took down the black-and-white photograph of a group of longshoreman from when I worked on the waterfront -- they are working at night, standing on top of a container in the dark, sharply lit from above by the working lights of the crane. One man is kissing another on the cheek, while the rest are pointing at them and laughing. I put the Lord's Prayer up in its place, sat back down at my desk and began to type, allowing myself to catch the Lord's Prayer out of the corner of my eye from time to time.

Nope, I realized after half an hour. Two big for that narrow patch of wall. And I'm not willing to lose any of the other art I have on the walls there: the computer-generated piece showing a raven heading out into a storm, his two brave little feet hanging down as he flies hard; the Watanabe print of Noah's ark; the painting of the ruins of the old Penn Station, the sepia print of General Seminary, the three little 18th-century engravings, the Piero della Francesca poster of a pregnant Virgin Mary, the icons. That's all the wall I have.

And the Victorians do dominate the spaces they inhabit. You can't have much in the way of straight lines and new colors in their company: they want more of their own ilk: a ball-and-claw table leg, a ponderous chair. They want antimacassars and doilies. I do have some antimacassars and doilies, creamy with age, that were made by my grandmother. But I know they wouldn't work with Penn station and the longshoremen.

There will be a place, though, for these old prayers. Somewhere in this house, they will find a home. Someone loved them, bought them, hung them, dusted them. Someone made one of them, for heaven's sake. And someone else took them down when the house sold, leaving large rectangles of wallpaper, as fresh as the day it was hung, in the center of a faded wall.
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