[This is the original version. An updated one is available in our essay collection “First Loves” (see “Buy the Books” on this site).]
I can’t take the pressure, boredom, loneliness. This quest is impossible; it is too much for me. These people float like phantom ships around me, through me, over me. I cannot hear the voice calling in the wilderness, nor my friend in the shade of an old cedar tree.
Can a prayer save its author? I pray that love be real and that I know it so; and that this world be a place where we all do well, watching bright-white sunshine on the grey cobblestone street-stream.
If you call upon the name of the Lord; if you speak the name of the unnameable: if you ask the Way to remember you, to come back to you, to pick you up and help you breathe again clear and free like you did in the tight slanted roads beneath the the uneven, overleaning, woolly-tan walls. But the water sharkfins through the worn-wood sluice and the tall hull built of pyramiding wide-slats, in a thick rubbery white paint and swooping upward towards a jutting prow, floats carelessly up to the leaving-gate.
If I say “Pure Love”; write it down, scratch it in the dry dirt, yell it in the marketplace, catcall it in the barrio. Based on the principle that what must–as a necessary and sufficient prerequisite for any possible intellectual and/or emotional foothold in any possible human moment–be true is indeed true: my inner sense that this life actually matters (not just somebody’s opinion, but for real); and that with open heart and open mind I can learn to always-better feel and understand, always-better follow and live this all-pervading insight that screams out from the core of every conscious moment within this infinite-headed self-forgetting hydra.
To drink, to escape the hopeless failing, the boredom, frustration, shame, dissatisfaction. To drink and smoke and waste it all like you can do over and over again when you’re 22 and there’s a bit of dumb luck on your side.
I rose to tell them about the concrete freighter ship and how the hard sharp sandpapery edge of the topside tore a deep red ditch through my sensibilities. But they blink in the warm, rich, beading sunlight. They call for another round of artichoke salad with organic corn kernels and creamy Italian dressing made with first-cold-pressed organic olive oil certified “authentic olive oil” by the incorruptible Olive Oil Board. I rise to say a few things, but no one wants to know; not even me. I wander back to where it all began: this cool-morning-light outcropping that holds, with the proud cupped-elongation of a waiter’s white-gloved fingers beneath a silver hors d’ouevres tray, a stack of smooth rounded stones. The stack resembles a giant cowpie cast in eternal stone. I sit upon this heap of soft-cool rock and speak nothing to myself, nothing to the bright blue cloudless sky ahead, nothing to the feather-world of bending-arms-pines behind.
Who can say why Zeus chose to answer the heartfelt peace-prayers of the Achaeans and Trojans–prayers duly accompanied with pious slashes of relentless bronze into and along the soft sweet necks of their fattest, juiciest lambs–with another decade of grimy, limb-splattering, all-scattering war? Who can say why God found it appropriate to help the Israelites vanquish all comers in David’s day only to then let them divide into two conflicting kingdoms, one ultimately destroyed and irrevocably dissolved by the Assyrians, the other toppled and held captive in Babylonia for more than sixty bleak, shameful, disappointing years? Who really knows why God answers some prayers and not others. We people sometimes have some theories on the subject: but people have theories–only the god knows.
Still, we lift up our solemn prayer: Grant us exuberant and steady health, real wisdom and goodness, the clarity to perceive what’s best for us to do and the ability to fit ourselves into this fast-flowing world so as to do it: guide us to real success–the kind based in the boundless, undifferentiated soul and radiating outward through the many wondrous particulars.
Pure Love, pure love, love, pure love, real love; a love that gives infinitely forever; a light shattering the darkness; a void teeming with infinitely irrepressible kindness–the wellspring and the backdrop of all things.
Pure Love at the core. Pure Love at the extremities. Pure Love all through, shining bright as day. Help us move well now and always! Help us to do well for real in this world and the deeper one.
Prayer by Bartleby Willard, who lives in the sheltered river glen–far inland from the burly coast.
Desperately-born witness by Andy Watson, who dash-paces these old wooden floor beams like a twitch-nosed rat made reckless by hunger and confusion.
Copyright with Andrew Mackenzie Watson, who lives alone along the turning staircase in the old forgotten cold-stone tower by the sea.
Who cares what these three fools do?
And yet, it was nice of them to pray not just for their own fool selves, but for everybody.
This prayer’s now been edited some seven times. What does the author think? That if he spruces up the imagery and more precisely explains the ideas, the True Good will be more ready and able to work with him? Or does he think that if he improves his prayer, he’ll mold himself into a vessel more ready and able to accept the Grace that the Great God gives freely, infinitely, relentlessly even?
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