the prayers we pray when we think it’s the end…
i motored home from the faraway writing festival in an ice storm, the sort that has you white-knuckling the wheel, and praying the prayers that matter most. all along the roadside, as i started toward home, crunched-up cars and parts of cars were strewn like pool balls along the sides of the highway. police lights flashed. stunned passengers staggered from what was left of their cars. the lanes of the highway were shiny and gritty, the detritus of ice piling thicker and sleeker.
i’d felt the ice as i walked across a long parking lot, as the spitting rain began to ping against my face. as it started to sting. as i realized it was no longer rain, but bits of ice in the making. by the time i got to my old red wagon, the ice bits had piled along the edge of the windshield, into the groove where the wipers lie still.
the forecast warned it would only get worse. and i had a house soon filling with people i love — with my beloved brother from maine, and his little girl who was turning nine that very day, who was coming to my house for pink polka dots and sparkling pink lemonade and a hot-pink birthday cake covered with roses and shimmering glitter (not unlike the bits of ice now piled on my windshield). so i turned the key and pointed my car toward chicago.
and what prayer popped front and center? the one that begs for time with my boys. the one that found me telling God, over and over, that my job was not done. the one that had me making deals. the one that mentioned how inconvenient it would be for me and my wheels to join the cascade of crunched metal and glass along the sides of the road, mile after mile after mile. and lest God had forgotten, i made sure to mention that my firstborn was about to start his first-year law school exams, and he could ill afford to come home for my funeral. (i’m fairly certain that was the thing that cinched the deal, don’t you think?) for good measure, i added that the little one, the one i will nearly always refer to as “my little one,” well, he had enough to worry about, i reminded God, without losing his mama on the side of the icy michigan interstate.
of all the words in the world, of all the petitions to which i might have put breath, the ones that flowed from my heart and my lungs were the ones that centered on the two whom i mother with my whole blessed being.
truth is, i suppose, that i will never ever hit my fill of being their mother. of loving them with every ounce of all i am — and more. i will, in my last breath, wish i’d had more. wish i could witness just one more chapter of who and why they are becoming.
is that not the burning furnace at the heart of our deepest, greediest loves? is it even greedy to love beyond the borders of who we are, of our wildest imagination? or is it the living breathing definition of love beyond measure? is it, perhaps, the holiest iteration of loving?
i made it home all right. even made it home, i’d find out the next day, with a nail smashed into the rim of my tire. must have picked it up in the last couple miles, as i drove through a construction zone. it didn’t go flat on that long icy ride home; it waited till the next morning when we pulled out of the garage and felt the telltale galump of a car with one flat tire.
later that night, when i mentioned to a friend how scary the drive had been, and how hard i’d prayed, she told me: “my prayer was always ‘I want to tell my kids I love them one more time.'”
the prayers we pray when we’re staring into the hard stop. the ones that chase away all the distraction, and bore through to the life-and-death essence.
the ones we’ll pray till our last….
what prayer might you pray till your last?
funny how these things decide to write themselves. i thought i was about to spill out my notebook, to share a few fine lines from the festival of faith and writing, which kwame alexander, the newberry-winning author, decided should be called, “festival of faith in writing.” apparently, the prayers won out.
but before i go, a few favorite lines from the line-up of poets and thinkers who, for three days and one ice storm, made me swoon…
kwame alexander, in a brilliant hilarious keynote, in which one of the stories was about his mother dying: the loss of your mom, he said, is “the most devastating thing any child ever has to go through…” (when mom died) “my star exploded and everything froze.”
poet marie howe: when asked how she found poetry, or perhaps how poetry found her, replied: “I was looking for a language no one else seemed to be talking about.”
“First time I noticed it was the back cover of Bob Dylan’s first album. Looking for language that speaks to this world within the world and I couldn’t find that.”
in a conversation between marie howe and irish poet padraig o tuama, this:
“poetry can be something of a common heart”
“if poetry does its work, it gets to the heart of the matter.”
padraig: “poetry is the original song of human life. I believe the first poem was the lullaby around the fire, a baby is crying…”
the essayist dinty moore, spewed wisdoms from other writers, including these:
Harry Crews: “writers spend all their time preoccupied with all the things the rest of the world spends all their time avoiding.”
Mary Oliver: “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
James Tate: “when one is highly alert to language then merely everything begs to be a poem.”
Allen Ginsberg: “catch yourself thinking…”
that’ll do for now, with one more offering from my blessings of motherprayer file.
I found Marie Howe’s poem, “What the Living Do,” shortly after my brother John died. It starts, “Johnny, the kitchen sink is clogged…” It spoke to me so personally. It said everything I was feeling. After that, I looked for every poem she’d ever written. To this day, her poem greets me every every morning when I open the fridge. It’s been posted there for years.
she read that poem, and told the story of how it came to be, when her own brother died, after living with AIDS. he was one of the nine siblings. she was spectacular. her long, unruly curly hair. her long-fingered dancer’s hands. her gravelly voice. i was mesmerized.
i am so so sorry you lost your brother. and so grateful a poem fills some of the brokenness each and every morning….the poems we choose to post in the places we touch without thinking each and every day…..
long as we’ve mentioned it, here it is:
What the Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
From What the Living Do by Marie Howe. Copyright 1998 by Marie Howe. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.
Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
FATHER…RECEIVE MY SPIRIT…?
barb, i just this minute read the blog—–my computer has been misbehaving for 2 days—–PLEASE—–next time if you ever encounter anything like this storm—just stay put—–i could not do without you either—-just think of your mother, your husband and the zillions of people that love and need you. promise me you won’t be so foolhardy again—-forgive a m-i-l for scolding, BUT once a person hits 85, the rule is it’s okay to be bossy. too many humans on earth need you. my hair is standing on end. or go to conferences in july-august only. stay with us on this planet for the next 40 yrs at the very least. big love, g. forgive me, but these wds are with undiluted love.
Ohhhh, dear dear ginny, love you!!! I promise I will never do anything stupid. I plan on sticking around for a looooong time. And I drove really slow. I didn’t even swerve. Not once…..and yes, it’s AOK for you to tell me when you think I do dumb things. Just didn’t wanna spend the night at highway patrol! Xox
For old school Catholics, the Act of Contrition might be their last prayer. My sister tells the story of being in a car with our cousin Patty and our Uncle Jimmy. Jimmy was in town on business and he took his two nieces out to dinner. Patty was driving and some might consider her to be a rather bold driver. After another near miss, my uncle declared, “That was pretty good, Patty. I only got to HEARTILY SORRY that time.”
i LOVE that story! sooo hilarious. i can hear it, see it, and am laughing from my virtual backseat! xoxoxo (i should teach that prayer to ol’ blair who doesn’t exactly relish having me be the one behind the wheel…..) xoxoxo
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” ~Albert Einstein. I haven’t seen my cousin Patty in several years and really haven’t had all that much contact with her. But yesterday this story popped into my head and this morning I learned that she has breast cancer and is having a mastectomy next Wednesday. She will be in my heart and prayers every day now as she undergoes all the stuff that goes with this diagnosis and treatment.
oh my gracious, sweetheart. she is in ALLLLLLL of our prayers. i love the einstein line — takes my breath away. and your postscript on patty, marvelous witty patty, takes my breath away too. promise for many many many prayers….i know you know the journey she now travels….xoxoxo