It’s 1:30AM in Poolesville, Maryland. The alarm goes off and Ani Aileen groggily rolls out of bed and turns the coffeepot on in preparation for her to take the helm from 2 to 4 AM at KPC-MD’s prayer vigil. She has been doing this 2 – 3 nights a week for the past 22 years. Dressed and ready, Ani Aileen walks down the stairs from where she lives above the temple, cup of coffee and book of prayers in hand.
Downstairs, Leigh is finishing her prayer shift and has a 45 minute drive ahead of her before she can go to sleep. She will arrive home shortly before 3AM and have a few hours of sleep before she must wake for work. Although she may yawn a few extra times that afternoon, the thought of not doing her prayer shift has not even occurred to her. Being part of a continuous effort that has just entered its 23rd year is more important than the few extra hours of sleep she might have gotten.
While Leigh finishes chanting her prayers, Ani Aileen takes a few moments to read the names of people who have both sponsored and requested prayers for themselves and their loved ones. She will dedicate her prayer shift to those names as well as those she herself is praying for, and ultimately all sentient beings.
Had Ani Aileen been late for her shift, Leigh would have waited until she arrived. The prayer shift doesn't end at a certain time - it ends when the next person arrives so that there is a continuous, unbroken chain of prayer. From time to time, people have ended up signing up for a two hour shift and ended up taking a 4 hour shift due to an unforeseen circumstance such as traffic or weather conditions that prevent the next person from arriving on time. It is not even an option in the mind of the person on the prayer shift to leave before his or her replacement has arrived – the commitment to the unbroken nature of the vigil is that strong.
But this time Leigh is able to leave at her scheduled time. As she leaves, Ani Aileen centers her heart and mind on prayers to end the suffering of others. And so it continues...