One of the best gifts my father has ever given me is an online subscription to The New York Times. He has always been an ardent fan of good news sources. The man has a ridiculously insatiable desire to learn. It was inevitable that such an appreciation would be passed on to his children as well. However, while my father devours every article on current events and sports, I tend to skip over the bleak headlines and head straight to the more superfluous articles and slide shows in the House and Garden and Style sections. Hardly academic, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Anyway, this is a rather roundabout way of mentioning that I found a rather enjoyable and thought-provoking opinion piece titled, “The Trick of Life,” by Akhil Sharma (The New York Times, April 5, 2014). It’s a simple anecdote of a struggling writer who was forever changed—in his actions, his thinking, and his writing—by a friend’s act of kindness. An excerpt:
I BEGAN to pray for the people who were passing by. I prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller. I prayed for the young woman jogging by in spandex. I prayed for the little boy pedaling his bicycle. I prayed that each of them got the same things that I wanted for myself: that they have good health, peace of mind, financial security. By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing.
After this, when I would sit at my desk, trying to write, and despair welled up, I knew what to do. I prayed. Not for myself, or for the ability to write, but for others…
Prayer is powerful. I rely on prayer for structure and routine. I can’t go to sleep unless I’ve recited the Lord’s Prayer and sent up my own personal requests. I rely on prayer for companionship and connection. This has been especially true as a mother of a young child who will not sleep.
Endless nights aren’t quite so lonely when there is always someone to talk to. But mostly I rely on prayer for comfort. Prayer is my go-to weapon in times of fear, and I’m afraid a lot. And so I pray a lot. But for the most part, my prayers are reserved for me. Perhaps this stems from a childhood belief that every person was allotted a certain number of prayer requests and if you made too many requests, God would cut you off. I don’t know where this notion came from, but even as an adult I somehow feel as though my prayers are limited and should be used wisely. Thus, I am not in the habit of “wasting” prayers on strangers or people I strongly dislike. I hope to change this.
Today, I want to master the trick of life—or at least start. I think it will take practice and repetition and reminding. Today, I prayed freely and carelessly for a stranger. It was a short prayer, just a request for her to be happy, but it was something and that’s a good place to start.