This post is part of the Secret Messages Project. Every day for thirty days, I’ll leave my words in places where they might be found — or might never be found at all. I hope you’ll join me.
The other day, while I’m sitting at my desk at work, I write a prayer.
When it happens I have no intention of writing a prayer. I have no intention of writing anything at all. But it comes over me, in that moment of quiet, when my mind is at rest, and I can’t stop it, can’t help but get out my little blank book and get it out, get it out, because I know it belongs outside of me, somewhere besides my own head.
I don’t worry about writing something artistic — that isn’t the point. I just want to write something sincere. And this prayer — this is sincere.
I scribble until I know there’s nothing left.
I copy it down, later, onto a long ribbon of paper and roll it up like a scroll.
I tuck the scroll into a little wooden box with a hinged lid, like the ones I kept jewelry in when I was a girl, and then I put on my coat and go out looking for a place to leave it.
I cross the bridge from Memorial Avenue toward Black Dog Salvage, and I park the car. Start walking the greenway.
It’s almost evening, the sky full of fading pink light, and there are runners and bikers everywhere. A dog lurches wildly into a field of long grass, chasing a ball, and the echo of his bark settles down into the bend of the river.
I take a path downhill to a bench. I think that I’ll leave the box there, and I even take photographs, the camera clicking and clicking, the pictures suffused with that lovely pink light. But still … it doesn’t feel right, so I tuck the box back under my arm and hike back up the hill and halfway across the bridge.
There, I photograph the box teetering on the concrete railing. In the background is the rush of the river, its eddies spiraling in slow whorls. It’s pretty, undeniably so.
But no — that isn’t right either.
Finally, I walk across another bridge, over a set of railroad tracks and into Mountain View.
It’s a neighborhood that has a quiet, ramshackle charm. The old Victorians are painted garish colors, and their paint is peeling. There’s a sign on an empty lot — “We Buy Homes” — that suggests perhaps this is a neighborhood where someone wouldn’t mind selling a home wholesale, under the right conditions. There’s a kind of corner store. A gathering of neighbors shooting the breeze.
I see a community garden here — cheerful even in the gray — but I pass by it and into an old rose garden where no roses are blooming.
I follow one of the mulch paths to a rough stone bench and sit quietly. The last of the light is fading.
This is the right place for this prayer, and also, in this moment, it’s the right place for me.
I leave the box:
I cross over the railroad tracks again. A train full of coal rumbles the concrete beneath my feet, and the prayer repeats itself in my head:
let our imaginations
stay limber —
Teach us to believe
that the sky might be
that there could be sun
behind our skin–
in the winter dark–
that there could be love,
no matter what,
for big people
and small people
and the ones who
have hurt us,
the ones who pray to You
and the ones who don’t.
to take joy
in all these things
we don’t know,
to touch our knees
to hollowed ground
when we witness mountain peaks,
or the smiles of children,
or the smiles of those
old enough to be jaded,
for whom a smile
is a kind of sacrifice.
Teach us to break what must be broken,
to mend what must be healed,
and to know which is which.
Let us see stars
in the sunrise
in the stars
(the sun shines still,
even at midnight,
though we cannot see its face).
Most of all,
to be breathless,
over and over again,
every day of our lives–
Catch our breath,
stop our hearts–
if only to remind us,
for a moment,
that this life is fragile and brief,
and this world is shockingly beautiful,
and oh, God, teach us to revel in it…
And the next day after that.