Sand in the Gears

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June 25th, 2009 Posted in Faith and Life

Sometimes the words don’t seem like they’ll get close to the truth of anything, and so I just stop writing. That’s not completely true; I’ll write fiction perhaps, because those people in the stories inside my head haven’t yet worked themselves into corners where the words are like sunfaded fabric or covered-over grass or the sigh that comes after weeping. They can still say something that is true, or at least live for a few moments in a way that is something like true, like the way we were meant to live and feel and breathe.

I’m learning how to pray. I’m forty-one years old and only now learning how to pray. Thankfully the prayers don’t depend on my words. I needn’t even speak beyond the half-whisper, half-thought to Christ the Guardian, the Son, the Giver of mercy. Last week I thought I saw something like light. I even put out my hand, like this light was in front of my closed-lidded eyes. I slept like the dead for a few hours that night. Have you ever longed to sleep a thousand years? A thousand years might just do it. And on waking we’d have pancakes. Then perhaps a nap.

Last night I fell asleep praying. I dreamt I stood at the bottom of a steep hill in an alien city, in the middle of a broken street. There were thugs beating a car in the street, trying to turn it over. They saw me and came running, hurling stones and leering. Sometimes in my dreams I can neither fight nor run; I swing my fists and they don’t connect, I strain my legs but my feet won’t budge. This night, however, my fists worked. I downed one leering thug, then another. I threw their own rocks at them. They retreated out of reach, but no farther.

My wife was at the top of that hill. I could neither see nor hear her, but I knew she was there, waiting, wondering why I was taking so long to come back to her. I began to labor up that broken street, leering antagonists at the edges of my vision. It was so high, this hill. And I was so tired. Perhaps if I could sleep within my sleep, I would finally feel rested. Have you ever been that tired?

But at least the words are coming back. Sometimes when they leave I fear they’ll be gone for good. Other times I wish I didn’t have them, that I could just be normal and untwisted and reliable as the sun. The best times are when they pour from my fingers and it is like rain on scorched earth, or air when you think you’ve dived too deep ever to reach the top again, or rounding the bend in a crooked little road to discover that there is no more road, that you’ve stumbled your way up that hill you never thought you’d know the end of. Then you don’t feel broken at all.

I think maybe all of us are on our own crooked little streets staring uphill. Sometimes the haze clears and you see it stretches much higher than you imagined. Other times you lift your eyes to discover that you’ve come much farther than you ever thought you had the strength to go. Either way, you have to keep walking or crawling or sometimes even running, especially when people are counting on you. So you do, and if the words come you sing a song or write a verse or say a prayer, and all of these are ways of saying thank you, even at the bottom of this darkening hillside, thank you.