I grew up without the myths and parables of any religion, but I heard the legends of my great-grandfather repeated like a gospel.
Zeus’ father Cronus ruled the Titans until Zeus overthrew him. My great-grandfather’s father ruled his farm in Poland until a bull killed him, leaving my great-grandfather to step in at eight years old.
Odin rode a flying eight-legged horse into the underworld. My great-grandfather joined the cavalry and kept his horse from death by riding only half the time and walking the rest.
Moses parted the Red Sea to save his people. My great-grandfather sailed across the Baltic Sea, the Kattegat Sea, the Skagerrak Fjord, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean so his three children would one day be born safe.
Jesus healed the blind, the paralyzed, the deaf, the bleeding. My great-grandfather pulled a bullet from his nephew’s leg as he lay on the kitchen table.
Muhammad learned and shared the words of Allah. My great-grandfather learned the language of his new home with a second-grade education and the help of a fellow bus boy.
Vishnu gave immortal life to the other Hindu gods. My great-grandfather gave a new life to every immigrant he helped bring across the border.
The Buddha lived many lives before he died and broke free from the cycle of rebirths. My great-grandfather beat cancer again and again before he finally broke free from the suffering.
The religious wear crosses, stars, crescents, turbans, veils, and hijabs. Sometimes I wear my great-grandfather’s wedding ring on a chain around my neck.
My grandma gave it to me when I was 24, and the first time I wore it, I met a kind man with a smile that felt like it was just for me. On our first date, he made me laugh until I cried. I wore the ring again on our wedding day.
Years later, after months of negative pregnancy tests, I wondered if my great-grandfather might help me once more. I fastened the chain, enveloped the ring in my hand, and gave it a pleading squeeze. I let go so I could pee on the stick, and two lines appeared before I even had time to hope. When I went into labor, I tucked the ring and its chain into my bag before we left for the hospital.
I’ve never prayed to any god, prophet, or saint, but sometimes I pray to my great-grandfather.
When my daughter woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe, I didn’t even put on a bra, but I put on the chain that holds my great-grandfather’s wedding ring. His hands were so big that I was able to slip two of my fingers in and out of it while I sat beside my daughter in the car. At the hospital, I held my daughter with both hands, but I felt the ring against my skin under my shirt.
“Great-grandfather,” I silently called to him. “Pradziadek,” I repeated, this time in his native tongue. “Please help her. Please make her strong. Please let her be ok.”
I’m still wearing the ring in the morning when we all wake up safe at home. I collect my daughter from her crib and hold her just as tightly as I did the night before. She grabs at the ring and babbles. “That’s Dzia-dzia’s ring, baby,” I say, remembering what my mother used to call him.
“Dzia-dzia,” my daughter repeats and nestles against my chest.
“Dziękuję, Dzia-dzia,” I say and kiss the top of her head. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I don’t know if he can hear me. I don’t know if he’s watching over me or if he’s out there somewhere in the sunshine or the breeze. But I know his blood runs in my veins and in the veins of my daughter, and when I remember that, I know he already gave us the strength I pray for.
Marika Ruth Garland works as a writer and editor in financial services. She studied creative writing at Kenyon College and holds a master’s degree in communication from Northwestern University. She is currently seeking representation for her first novel, Why I Hate Birds. Learn more about her at marikaruthgarland.com.