There are some things that should only be said in person.
This is the sort of journey I am embarking upon this week; to say something difficult, and to say it in person.
This week of my birthday and Mother’s Day is a week of celebrations haunted by the absence of someone I love very much. Someone I wish desperately was closer than the farthest coast. Someone I am flying to, as I type this; someone I would go to hell to retrieve, though, thankfully such a descent isn’t required of me, not yet. So instead I am in the air right now over the Midwest.
I am praying because I have to. Because the thing I am getting ready to say must be said in person. It must be enlivened by breath, blood, vocal chords and epiglottis. It must stutter and stumble.
I drive myself to the airport and try to pray. I listen, not to the Katy Perry song stuck on repeat in my head (it’s bludgeoning me, actually, evidence of my karaoke birthday party) but to the rhythmic dip of my tires (guh-gung, guh-gung) over the cement seams of I-45.
I try to empty my mind not only of Katy Perry but also of my pleas. I try to listen to the bobbing of the car and let it simply be the bobbing of the car.
On the airplane I read this: “Prayer means shedding of thoughts.”
Prayer means shedding of thoughts, I repeat quietly to myself.
So I try to shed my thoughts, and listen instead to the vacuum sssshhhhh of the airplane, the electronic bell of the attendant call button, the metallic clap of buckles done and undone.
I am praying because I have to. Because the thing I am getting ready to say must be said in person. It must be enlivened by breath, blood, vocal chords and epiglottis. It must stutter and stumble. It must be real.
I have left far too many things unsaid, or worse, I have let my social media avatar say them for me. You know the girl, always looks great, only viewable from her best side. Always clever, smart and caring. “Happy Birthday!” she says, “Thinking of you!” or worse “Praying for you!”
My social media avatar can’t say what I am flying across the country to say. I am not sure if I myself can say it.
That’s why I’m praying.
Last night my friend Lauren met me for a drink at our favorite café. It was a late request and she was gracious to meet me. I was nervously anticipating this journey I am on, and wanted to sit across the table, in person, from someone I know loves me.
She said, “I think it’s exciting, actually.”
“Exciting?” I said.
“To know that you have nowhere to go but to your knees.”
Prayer. Not a litany of requests but a shedding, an emptying of self, of power and presumption.
I am not very good at prayer for all those reasons and because I am quite skilled at doing it on my own. I’m quite resourceful, actually. I’ll be fine, I say. Thanks but no thanks. I can handle this on my own. But I can’t.
I am not very good at prayer for all those reasons and because I am quite skilled at doing it on my own. I’m quite resourceful, actually. I’ll be fine, I say. Thanks but no thanks. I can handle this on my own.
But I can’t.
On my first flight I sit beside a woman with creamy, cocoa skin, and a zebra patterned shawl wrapped around her shoulders. I take out my Bible (I’m desperate, remember) and start reading Jonah, trying to insert myself into his story, trying to read these words for myself and not as a fix-it manual for the one I love.
I wonder what my seatmate thinks of my Bible reading and I remember the lyric of a worship song I heard in a lively, charismatic church in the hills above Malibu:
I’m not ashamed of the Gospel/ I’m not ashamed of the Gospel
I wonder if Jonah counts as Gospel since it’s in the Old Testament. I'm reading Jonah. Some pastor, I think, I don’t even know what counts as Gospel, and put the Bible in my tote bag.
I read instead an interview with Helena Bonham Carter in the airline magazine.
Later my seatmate Lois and I get to talking. She has the same birthday as my husband, she is also from New York (Flatbush, Brooklyn), and she is a Christian. But more, she is an intercessor.
An intercessor is someone who prays.
I tell her my story, of where I am headed and why, and she agrees with me. She affirms my journey and promises to go to God with my plea. I think she knows that I can’t seem to.
I am on my way now, almost there.
I am training to shed my thoughts, to shed my self and try to listen to the still, small voice that will have to give me the words, the right words.
I know at least among them will be, “I Love You.” And “I’m listening.”
Cameron Dezen Hammon writes the blog Hipster Christian Housewife.