Dying Grandma's Acronymic Index Cards Go Viral

The New Yorker, the Star Tribune, the New York Daily News and others reflected on the story of an Edina Community Lutheran Church family who turned to a Metafilter forum to solve a decades-old mystery.

Credit: Janna Holm
Credit: Janna Holm
An Edina Community Lutheran Church family was gratified last week when online sleuths on a Metafilter forum solved an 18-year-old mystery, decoding the index cards full of capital letters that Dorothy Holm left behind when she died in 1996.

The index cards, believed by her family to be "cancer-addled ramblings,” were found to be a version of the Lord's Prayer, igniting a media firestorm that bombarded the Holm family with inquiries from the Today Show, NPR and others.

Here's a sampling of reflections on What It All Means from around the Internet:

The New Yorker

Now, every prayer is a mystery, even if it’s not written in a code that takes two decades to crack. Even the very impulse to pray is mysterious. The faithful may understand their prayers as an act of obedience, though even they may wonder why desires must be articulated to a deity who knows all. Others believe that prayer affects the one who offers it, not necessarily the one who receives it. How one should pray—not only which words, if any, to use, but also which postures to inhabit—remains an active conversation in many religious communities, and the yearning to pray “better” or more “effectively” sustains an industry of gurus and guides.

Prayers can be as private as a whisper or as public as a pop song. Dorothy Holm, the author of these cards, crafted a prayer that was both, but it was the conventional prayer that she recorded that allowed her code to be broken: the recognizable triple “amen” first oriented the code breakers, and the well-known “Our Father” confirmed their cryptographic instincts. If she had not used a conventional prayer, her code might never have been figured out.

The Star Tribune

"It was kind of relieving to have an answer, even if we don't know what every single word says," Janna Holm, who posted the card, said. "It's nice to know that they were prayers, and kind of gave some insight into what she was thinking and what she was focused on in her last couple weeks."

The Guardian

Reading the dearest hopes of this extremely private woman doesn't, oddly, feel voyeuristic. But it does raise in the sharpest form the question of what prayer is. Dorothy Ann did not know when she wrote the cards that complete strangers would be reading them 18 years later, and discover what she meant. But even if we decipher every word correctly, we will never know the answer to the largest question: when she sent these thanks and pleas to God, was anyone, was anything, there to listen?


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