On Cattle Dogs and Impossible Prayers

IMG_2638Look who’s back to work.

My dog Gracie, the one with the floppy left ear who nearly died last week, is back in action.

Last Sunday, after her head had swollen to twice its normal size for mysterious reasons and the vet said we might have “some decisions” to make, I laid in my bed and cried, praying for my dog.

Meanwhile, one of my best friends in California is fighting for her life against ovarian cancer. Tear gas and revolution are blowing through Turkey for desperately important reasons and, officially, 70,000 people have been killed in Syria.

And I’m praying for my dog? How parochial, how selfish.

Then I remembered what my darling friend Lisa Long said to me at the Love Does Conference last month.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people, it’s a losing proposition.”

Life is hard for everybody in totally different ways because this world is broken.

Yet, there are protestors wrapping their arms around Turkish cops in riot gear; cops who perhaps moments before were firing water cannons into the crowd. Do they deserve hugging? Hardly. Are people still doing it? Yes. What an amazing impulse – where does it come from?

I can do very little about encroaching authoritarianism in Turkey, or the war in Syria, or Karen’s cancer, but rather than feel helpless and bitter, I have learned to pray and say thank you.

Like so many biblical mandates, that one seems irrational with water cannons firing, but when I do it, I feel unburdened, clean and stalwart, like I’m contributing to a war effort I can’t see. I imagine tethers snapping just on the other side of my awareness as I pour my heart into unfathomable places, exercising my faith for people I’ll never meet.

It doesn’t always happen, but when my heartbroken prayers get a yes, like they did with Gracie, my confidence grows and I begin to pray for increasingly impossible things, like a peaceable, common-sense solution in Turkey, an end to the fighting in Syria and that my sweet friend Karen and I will celebrate together at her son’s graduation. For all of this, I’m saying thank you ahead of time.

It reminds me of a poem by W. S. Merwin

Listen

with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out

in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like  the earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is

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