“I’m not actually a very nice person,” June said, as she ushered me into her home.
It was our first and only face-to-face meeting, although our connection traced to before either of us was born. June’s mother and my father were friends in their youth; and then our parents were friends; and in a larger, distinctly Southern way, our families were friends; and so, despite a more than ten-year difference in age and the fact that we’d never actually met, June and I, by extension, were friends. At least that’s how I thought of it one day last December when I pulled up in front of her house.
Our initial introduction came through Facebook, in September 2014. June sent me a friend request; and though I typically do not accept requests from strangers, June, as I’ve explained, was no stranger. Once linked through social media, I found that we shared many interests, that we liked reading similar things, and that we had many, many friends in common, far outside our polite family tether.
The occasion that called our live meeting was delivery of some risotto alla Milanese I had made specifically for her. I had posted, a few days earlier, something ridiculous about how risotto alla Milanese might be the world’s quintessential comfort food; and June had responded that it sounded delicious; and, because I remembered from my mother’s adventures in chemotherapy that when any food sounded remotely appetizing to a chemo patient, said-food had to be delivered while the attraction was fresh, I’d written back: I’ll bring you some.
Several days later, on a mild mid-morning in mid-December, I climbed out of my car and walked up to June’s door, casserole dish in hand, suddenly feeling awkward and uncomfortable and entirely out of place.
“Jennifer Larkey,” she said, with emphasis on each syllable, “we finally meet.” And she looked at me as if she had known me my entire life, which, of course, she had. I muttered and mumbled some unremarkable response, uncertain of exactly what to say.
“I love your daily prayers,” I finally managed. And June laughed. “People read those things and think I’m this sweet person; but I’m not actually a very nice person, not at all,” she said. I laughed. “Honestly, I’m not really all that nice, either,” I replied, with a nervous shrug. And we sat down.
In late summer 2014, around the time she and I got acquainted online, June started posting daily gratitude notes, sometimes more than one a day, embarking on what a friend of hers dubbed “a one-woman rebellion against apathy.” June’s notes were often for the simplest of things (toilet paper) but were never empty or flip. Having devoted her soul, and her entire professional life, to people on the fringes – the mentally ill, the homeless – June acknowledged life’s littlest blessings in a way that somehow, and quite naturally, engendered understanding, common ground.
In August 2015 June was diagnosed with lung cancer. Unsentimental and utterly without drama, she continued to write as she had before, only now more frequently, it seemed, and with occasional nods to her circumstances: Grateful for fruit, peanut butter and forgiving friends who understand chemo brain.
Her sharing of articles also became more frequent, and her feed became a favorite source for interesting ideas and articles probing everything from what ISIS really wants to how tiny houses could end homelessness. Last November, June posted a link to what is perhaps my favorite piece of all time, ever, Ask a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral, Aaron Freeman’s radio essay that in the short run, in 2005, helped me grieve for my mother. In the longer run the piece has been and is, for me, the only explanation of God that I’ll ever need.
A week or so later, June wrote a simple morning prayer:
Prayers for people and animals who are cold today.
And the next day:
Prayers for people whose feet hurt or who need clean, dry socks or shoes.
Each new day there was a new entry, and each evening a bookend of gratitude.
Even though I am a bona fide, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd certificate-holding Sunday school teacher, I’ve never been much for praying, not in this particular way. But June’s prayer posts gave me pause each day, and with each pause came a bit of peace. With all of it together, I was awestruck by her. I had long admired her formidable community work. Now seeing her wry humor, grace and dignity in the face of terminal illness, June took on mythical proportion, legendary in my mind.
And there I was, in real life, sitting in her house, fumbling for words.
“Since neither of us is very nice,” I said, “I have to tell you that the dish the risotto is in is a dish I don’t particularly like; so when you’re finished with it you can keep it, if you like it; or you can give it to the Goodwill, or throw it away, or leave it on the porch, still dirty, and I’ll come pick it up. Do whatever is easiest for you. And if you warm up that risotto and put it on a plate and suddenly find it unappetizing, just throw the whole thing away.” She smiled, a crooked, ironic kind of smile; and suddenly I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable or out of place at all. And then we visited for a bit; and then I left.
One night, in the middle of the night, about six weeks ago, it occurred to me that June’s daily prayers needed to be gathered and preserved and shared. I wrote to ask if she’d ever considered compiling them.
“Yes,” she responded; “I think they might be helpful to some people. But,” she added, “I don’t have the energy to do it.” She wondered if I would be interested. “Yes,” I replied; “I am.” So I did.
This past week I have been thinking about June and that physicist and June’s prayers, which she stopped posting on April 9, no longer able to write them. With her blessing, and with the permission of her husband and family, I share them here, all 96 of them, hopefully to be shared again, multiplied and copied and illustrated, murmured and sung and hummed and felt.
To them I would add only one: Prayers for all who love June Mann Averyt. May they feel her presence everywhere and find comfort in it.
June’s Prayers for the People
for people and animals who are cold today.
for people whose feet hurt or who need clean, dry socks or shoes.
for all people and animals who itch for whatever reason. May they find relief as soon as possible.
for people and animals without joy in their lives.
for people and animals with bad teeth or teeth that hurt. May they find relief.
for people and animals deprived of restful, healing sleep.
for people and animals with indigestion. May their innards know peace.
for warmth for all who are cold.
for the capacity to stay dry for people and animals faced with floodwaters or rising tides.
for animals and people with aches and pains in their joints that they may find relief.
for people and animals as they care for and suffer with those they love. Peace, grace, strength and mercy to them.
for justice and mercy for all who have been betrayed or who feel they have been.
for people still in the grip of addictions that are controlling their lives, and for those who love them.
for people and animals stuck in loneliness.
for people and animals with breathing and sinus issues.
for those who must contend with physical violence – their own and that of others.
for those with bruised egos and competitive spirits.
for people and animals who are in physical pain, especially those who are cold or wet.
for people who sleep without a soft place to put their heads down.
for people who live in refugee camps.
for people and animals living in places that are unstable or earthquake damaged.
for people and animals that live in wild weather.
for those to whom the holidays bring sadness.
for people and animals who appear to be wandering aimlessly.
for people who are cold and can’t find a warm place where they are welcomed.
for those who have no music in their lives.
for all those in prison or jail all over the world.
for people who have a passion, such as knitting or painting, but who lack the resources to do them.
for anyone who cannot sleep peacefully and deeply at night.
for people and animals who live in or with fear.
for people and animals who are so very unhappy.
for people and animals who do not have or know the love of other people and animals.
for people without sufficient free time to relax, to meditate, to mellow.
for people with too much stress, mental or physical, or emotional.
for people with entangled families.
for people whose fingers and toes hurt, and for animals with hurt paws.
for people who wake up unhappy.
for people and animals with nerve pain.
for people struck in fear or hate.
for people who wake too early and cannot go back to sleep.
for people and animals too cold to sleep.
for people and animals in this country and in refugee camps dealing with lice and fleas and other things that cause them to itch.
for people who are displaced at home or abroad.
for people who want to help. May their learning curves be short.
for family, friends or strangers in Memphis who have been shot.
for safe travel for people on the highways today, especially truckers.
for people and animals who wake up stiff for whatever reason.
for people having trouble breathing because they are stopped up.
for people everywhere who have no reason to get up in the morning.
for people with transportation issues.
for all those involved in the point-time count all over the U.S., both those counting and those who are homeless and being counted.
for people who have to walk in the cold or wait for a bus where there is no bus shelter.
for people whose air is polluted.
for people and animals scared of lightning and storms.
for caretakers of adults, children, animals.
for people and animals with mobility issues.
for people who are tormented by negative thoughts and people.
for people who are not aware of how their fears are affecting their lives.
for people and animals who suffer from dizziness or nausea.
for people who have trouble waking up.
for enlightenment/transformation/reconciliation for people observing Lent.
for those who wish to learn but are denied access to education, both here and abroad.
for people who drop things and have a hard time retrieving them.
for an awareness of peace, wherever it can be found.
for people and animals who cannot get enough sleep.
for people who need supplemental oxygen.
for people who have fallen and do not get the help they need to get up.
for people and animals who ache.
for people in refugee camps unused to doing without.
for people who cannot get out into sunlight – prisoners, shut-ins and anyone else you can think of.
for people and animals who are not mindful of when things go right.
for safety for people who are traveling.
for people without familiar beds or places to sleep.
for people who do not get to sleep until they wake up naturally.
for people whose addictions and illnesses encourage and allow them to burn almost every bridge or connection in their lives.
for people entangled by the physical stuff/things in their lives.
for those who have nothing they want to do today.
for those who are shut-in and unable to enjoy the lovely weather.
for people without a morning routine.
for those who slept in the rain last night.
for people and animals dealing with the aftermath of the flooding.
for people who love people who are dying.
for those who die without support.
for people and animals without joy.
for a restful Sabbath for people everywhere.
for people who have not been prepared for the cold.
for preparations for those who observe Holy Week.
for people with no privacy.
for people with little control over their living arrangements.
for people without toothpaste or toilet paper, or a toilet.
for people who feel the sadness of Good Friday.
for people with allergies, especially to tree pollen.
for anyone moving today or at the end of the month.
for those who would like to go to church but have no way to get there.
for people who have trouble swallowing.
for the estimated 250,000 sandstone cutters in India who have [lung cancer] symptoms but no meds, hospitals or hospice. And for whom sandstone cutting is the only way to make a living.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
UPDATE: Dr. June Mann Averyt died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family, at 11:30 on Saturday, April 30, 2016. The family asks that memorial gifts go to Outreach Housing & Community.
Food | Week of May 2, 2016