I never prayed before I was a parent.
A few days ago my daughter and I were driving home and passed a car accident. A car had driven off the road and hit a tree. An older man was on the ground. No blood. Rescuers were performing CPR and they were attaching pads for a defibrillator. I told my daughter we should say a prayer for the man because he looked like he needed as much help as he could get. I never used to pray.
When we got home I started searching the news to see what happened. A medical event, they weren’t sure what, had caused the man to crash. He died shortly after the accident. He was 74.
Since becoming a parent almost once I day I talk to whatever surrounds me. Energy. The gods and goddesses. The universe. God. I don’t know why. Things always feel a little beyond me. I’m called to do more than I alone can do. I ask for help. For strength and support. More than that, I recognize my weaknesses, my vulnerabilities, my fears. I pray because I’m uncertain. I’m scared. Because, I have no idea what I’m doing yet for some reason I’m responsible for things. Dinner. A child. Other people’s children. The first few seconds of a man’s experience of death were suddenly in my hands as I drove my daughter home. I knew nothing of his life. But, I knew something of his death. I wanted to honor his death. I wanted to honor him.
We pay homage to big things. At least, we try to. The pace of our culture makes it hard sometimes. We navigate loss, heavy, big things with the smallest of tools and most sensitive of hearts. We turn the tender parts of ourselves towards the parts of the world that beat us the most. We are raw and red and we do our best to make spaces to hold each other.
After a day, the name of the man that died is released to the media. I look him up. Stalkerish, perhaps. But, I wanted to know at least as much about his life as I knew about his death. A google search shows me the apartment complex where he lived. A day later we are out running errands and I find myself turning onto the road he used to live on. A few more turns brings me to his apartment complex. I see the trees that he saw.
I never prayed before having a kid. Now, I pray. Most of my prayers begin with “may” and “thank you.” I ask. I thank. Probably, I spend more time asking for things than I do expressing gratitude. I ask for the intangible things that carry me through the day. Faith, mostly. But not the church-goer kind of faith. I ask for the kind of faith that helps me remember that tides ebb and flow and the moon waxes and wanes. That emotions, even the dark and viscous emotion of sadness, moves through its own patterns of motion, rising and falling through our awareness. I ask for the tangible things I think will carry me through the day. I ask for a personal chef and a dog nanny. I ask for an RV. I ask for a farm. On the hardest days when I feel exhaustion and emptiness all the way down to my bones I whisper a simple “help me.” All these words I utter without the use of my lips or sound of my voice. I’ve discovered this silent, involuntary voice somewhere in my chest. It betrays the basic tenets of reason and silently speaks to invisible things. It speaks to the very forces I doubt most and often eschew, the unknown and unknowable. Something from deep within just rides the force of my breath and escapes my body and my understanding with an exhale.
I look at the trees that a dead man used to look at. My child is in the back seat. She knows nothing of our strange detour. I know that life and death are all part of a cycle and serve to balance the forces of the universe. At least this is what I’ve heard. Right now, it feels like a bullshit line. How does my babbling, sing-songy toddler balance such a sudden and strange death. It feels odd. Even preposterous. Are these really the forces that tie our universe together? Are these the ridiculous strings that bind us? Or are they the forces that sneak into us, needling their way into my consciousness? The ones that completely undo everything we think we know? These are the forces that level me. The full throated and glorious life of a toddler. The sudden twig snap of a stranger’s death on the side of the road. These things make me question everything. Force me to see. These are the fingers that pry open my eyes. I take a deep breath in and when I exhale, I pray.