Explore your space/place for two hours, looking, gathering, recording and archiving data that celebrates or magnifies the scale of the social scene of your choosing.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is located roughly ten miles south of Tucson, on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission was founded in 1692. The building that stands in this spot today was built between 1783-1797, and is the oldest European structure in the entirety of Arizona. This building attracts thousands of pilgrims annually on horseback and on foot as well as being an active Catholic Church with regularly held masses and operating a small school.
I went to the mission today to pray the rosary for my grandmother. While there, I observed a handful of others doing the same.
The rain is coming in, a lone bolt of lightening flashes off in the distance. The first drop just fell, cold on my blistering flesh. The dark skies stand in stark contrast to San Xavier’s light adobe walls. I now sit outdoors on a stone bench, its warmth seeps into my skin where we meet. Sporadic clusters of people wander with more purpose than before, seeking shelter from the now steady rainfall. It is a Sunday. There are families (presumably locals, here to pray) as well as tourists (mostly gray, cameras in tow). I am both: tourist, local, praying, photographing. The rain has grown stronger and I have moved inside to a creaky wooden pew, with scalloped edges, near the back of the sanctuary. The only sounds come from a choir of isolating fans, shuffling feet and creaks from the pew on which I sit. This is a holy place. A baby’s cry pulls me from my reverie and I look up to see a young couple with two small children light a candle to place on the alter beside hundreds of other dancing flames. They are now to my left, dipping their fingers into holy water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Before this reflection, before the rain, I walked slowly up the hill to the southeast of the parish. A well kept path takes you half of the way up and then circles the entirety of the mound. Along this short journey candles are lit, rosaries strewn and delicately folded notes stuffed carefully into the rocks. Looking up, a white wooden cross is perched proudly at the hill’s top. Beside this cross stand a teenage couple, holding hands and stealing kisses. There is no path to the top, just rocks and cacti, and so I stay at the halfway point. I follow this circle five times as I say the rosary under my breath, one circle for each of the mysteries prayed. It is a chant, a ritual and suddenly I am transported far away from Tucson, Arizona. I was in public, there were families gathered round participating in similar activities, but I was somehow alone. This walk was a map of grief, of attempted healing and acceptance. The panoramic mountain view held no importance and the incoming storm did not register as forboding. It was my intention upon arrival to document what was left there by others. This proved to be outside of my capabilities in such a space. I felt peaceful while there participating in my own miniature pilgrimage. After these laps and before heading back down the hill to write, I made several photographs to commemorate this ritual. They are somber. They reflect my mental state the past two weeks since my grandmothers passing. One in particular stands out, a yellow flower, like the yellow roses she hand selected for her grave blanket, preparing to bloom.
Life moves on; I am not ready. A new addition was added to our family this week, a baby boy who attended the funeral while still in the womb. He is the first Smith to not know my grandmother, the first of the first generation to not be held in her arms.
My tears are not the only that are currently being shed in this church. I am among others who are suffering as well as some who are celebrating. Two small girls near the alter giggle, one on each side of their father who’s head is bowed in prayer. A pew in front of me and to the left is entirely full, its occupants staring forward in complete silence. I too am silent as I listen to an older woman praying in Spanish. Focusing on her voice, background noises fade away. I do not understand her words, but her delivery conveys their meaning and so I close my eyes, bow my head and meditate alongside her.
I dip my fingers in the holy water and signal the cross. This is the last station of today’s journey through grief.
Prayer for the Eternal Rest
Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.