The streets were nearly empty on a cold Sunday evening at sunset. I was wandering through downtown Durham, clearing my head before the vigil for Jesus Huerta at Immaculate Conception Church, when I happened upon a cardboard box sitting on the concrete windowsill at the Center for Responsible Lending at Market and Main streets.
Wrapped in faux-wood grain contact paper, the box was labeled "Prayer Requests."
I opened the box. It smelled like a grandmother who still wears 1940s perfume and neatly tucks her wool sweaters in a drawer filled with silk sachets. Inside were hundreds of supplications, dating from 1998 to 2001, written in black, blue and red pen—and occasionally pencil—on the flaps of envelopes, snippets of notebook paper, a day from a desk calendar, a napkin, stationery and Post-It notes, including one advertising Prozac. The box originated at an East Durham church, although how it wound up on the street two and a half miles away, I don't know.
Back home, I silently read each prayer as if it were my own. No one asked for a miracle, just the basics: health, a job, a car. Many begged for their family members to find God or to get out of jail. Someone pleaded "to pass the test tomorrow and have transportation to get there."
Several called upon God for faith and salvation, peace and strength, and for "courage when things seem dark."
About midway through the box, I unfolded a piece of paper about the size of a gum wrapper. The entreaty read: "Pray for everyone."
Urban Archaeology documents found objects, photos, overheard dialogue, poignant scenes; the small, everyday true moments that define life in the Triangle.