"Anything else?" the preacher says, after listing two or three prayer concerns, each of them compelling. He points to the back pews, and a voice, a shaky female voice, says her mother fell and broke her hip, which is bad enough but then it's a real problem because she's the one taking care of her elderly husband, who's in a wheelchair.
That deepens the hush because there aren't any young people in the church, so old people breaking their fragile bones is something that hits frightfully close to home.
The preacher writes down what he has to, raises his eyes again, looks around, and points.
"My granddaughter--" another voice comes out of the back, behind me. I don't turn around. Sometimes it feels like I'm rubbernecking if I do a 360 in order the spot the supplicant. We're still really only visitors. Nobody gives names in this church; there are no more than forty souls in the pews on a sunny Sunday.
"My granddaughter--" the voice says again. It's a grandma, but that's no surprise because there's loads of them. But now there's been two pregnant pauses and enough of an audible gulp for all of us to know that a matter of significant heft has made the telling more of a problem than she might have thought when she raised her hand.
"My granddaughter--" a bit more hesitation, then the kind of tremolo you just know is prompting tears, "--is going to graduate this week from law school," she says, obviously emotional, "--USD."
Tears wrung from joy. Not sadness at all, but pure and radiant joy.
I have no idea how God almighty fields a couple billion prayers per minute, but I believe he does. Somehow. But right then I couldn't help think that, like me, amid the tales of woe, he might have smiled when this one came in.
Her granddaughter was graduating from law school.
It's impossible for the imagination not to try to fill in open spaces. Maybe once upon a time this granddaughter had been a real problem. Look, let's think the worst: maybe there'd been meth, maybe a horrible marriage, maybe something she did that made forgiveness more than just a chore. I don't know.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe she'd been a storybook granddaughter, Little Red Riding Hood carting a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream and two spoons along every time she'd stop by. Maybe she was absolutely perfect.
Go on, create the story yourself.
Me? Here's what I thought. I wondered if maybe those tears were wrung from the plain fact that this one, this granddaughter, was the first grandchild, not just the first to go to college--maybe that too--but the first to go on to become someone of significant professional respect in the family. "Did you know Laura is going to be a lawyer?" she might have said to her coffee friends three or four years ago; and now, the only lawyer in her family was to pick up her diploma, right down the road too, across the river in South Dakota. My lands, what a day.
It's what she had to say.
And I couldn't help wonder, really, whether it wasn't a voice from the American past, an American dream that has, for many reasons, fallen on hard times. It's the dream that brings illegal immigrants to our packing plants and milking parlors, a dream that makes millions from all around the world believe that if they could only get to America they could really get somewhere.
But, as Frank Bruni says in yesterday's New York Times, "More and more I think we've lost it, and by 'it' I mean the optimism that was always the lifeblood of this luminous experiment, the ambition that has been its foundation, the swagger that made us so envied and emulated and reviled." On a new "social progress" register that lists 139 countries, we are, he says, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation, just two slots ahead of Slovenia.
Republicans claim it's all Obama's fault, but two wars and a bad recession were well under way the moment he stepped into office; and Rand Paul promises he's not going to do big things--only 300 million little things. He doesn't believe in government, after all. Most Republicans rather liked Cliven Bundy's declarations.
Something is more pervasive here, something's in the water, something--I hate to say it--only tragedy can rebuild, if it can be rebuilt at all. Today, most people don't believe in what that grandma is experiencing, a world in which our kids and their kids have better lives. Most Americans no longer believe that their kids will have it better--life, that is--than they did.
In church, yesterday, it came as a surprise when a grandma who couldn't quite the get the words out was choked up by love and joy and greatly forgivable pride.
It was a request for prayer and, simultaneously, an answer to it, I'm sure. That shaky voice, I'm thinking, came from a lifetime of hope.
I may be wrong, but it was a moment we likely don't see all that often anymore; and this morning, for many reasons, I'm thankful to have been there.