Sunday, August 26, 2018

Universal prayer.

I had a bit of insight the other day that all prayer  - whether directed at a personal god or toward the universe - can be winnowed down to two categories: "Please" and "Thank you."

All requests are "please." Help me, give me strength, let me pass this test, bring my child home safely. Or my recent request of the universe, "Please just don't let this new oncologist be a dick." Sometimes it's an unreasonable demand, one that brings harm to another or one that seeks to change an outcome already decided. Other times it's the wordless fear-based plea of the broken, when you are too overwhelmed to even know what to ask beyond, "Please..." Asking often doesn't get you what you want or think you need, but it's so human to ask anyway. To plead, to try to bargain, to just wish with every fiber of your being.

And then there are the "thank yous." Answered prayers or unasked-for mercies, reverential silences and jolts of joy or love.  Gratitude can strike without warning: when an infant curls his tiny perfect fist around your finger or you hear the delighted giggle of a toddler, when you gaze up at the star-speckled night sky or out at the vast gray ocean, when plants burst back into life each spring, when you receive an unexpected kindness or compliment, when you look into the face of someone you love. You can be appreciative in small, quiet moments of contentment or in events that take your breath away.

I can think of so many instances of both, but two spring to mind. The first is a time when I was at my 5-year-old's soccer game, one of probably half a dozen games in a very crowded park. I sat with a few other moms watching my 2-year-old play in the sand pit. I turned my head for less than a minute to watch another child approach and when I turned back, my little boy was gone. Just gone. I jumped up and scanned the park and couldn't see him anywhere. I will never forget running around frantically asking everyone if they'd seen him, while people stared at me blankly and cars came and went in the full parking lot. If there was ever a "please" moment, this was it for me. Finally, someone who'd seen him pointed the direction he'd headed and I found him across the parking lot. He'd seen his dad and had run to meet him. I'm not sure when I've ever been so desperate to have my plea answered.

The second took place on a trip to the Serengeti during the great migration of nearly two million wildebeest. As far as we could see in either direction, for miles from one horizon to the next on that flat savannah, an endless stream of animals. Several wildebeest deep with zebras flanking them, barking at each other over the wildebeest's backs. Our guide nosed the jeep into the running herd so that they spilt and ran on either side of us, never pausing. It was just us and millions of animals, driven to run by the changing grazing availability. As I stood in the jeep, with all those beasts thundering around us, I wept - a silent "thank you"for being able to witness something so amazing.

In my adulthood, I often see a hawk just when I most need a reminder of my own strength. They seemed to be everywhere when I was pregnant and also in times of turmoil. Last week, I got home from seeing the new oncologist and was staring down the certainty that I would be doing chemotherapy, a process I absolutely dread. I parked my car in the garage and stepped back out into the sunlight and yelled up at the sky, "I could sure use a hawk sighting right about NOW!" I turned to walk back inside and heard the distinctive screeching cry of a raptor. Over my head, a hawk wheeled into view. It remained circling long enough for me to grab my camera and get one shot before disappearing, leaving me teary-eyed in gratitude.

And thank you.

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