The cynic in me once thought that, if there were any concrete argument against the power of prayer, it had to be at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
More than 5 million people visit the center of the religious universe every year. I know a good number of people pray for a connection with the girl or boy across the street. But a good portion of them must pray for peace in the Middle East, and yet, here we are. Century after century. Nothing.
But now with this pandemic, my inner cynic grows more cynical. I mean this disease is affecting the entire globe. All the world’s religions must want the same thing and must be praying for it in their own way, and yet the bodies keep stacking up. And seemingly, in the more pious places. I mean, we’ll soon pass 10,000 Benghazis, and 15 World Trade Centers in the US alone.
I know there will be those among you who may admonish, and say that the Gods work on their own timetable, but I have to imagine that the number of incoming prayers would move the needle toward some sort of divine intervention.
When I get in such a mood, I head out looking for signs of hope. Lately, I just walk the Bangkok streets and alleys. I find it best with some headphones and a good playlist. Spotify’s “Songs from the Vietnam War”. Zeppelin, Hendrix, Dylan. It is an amazing soundtrack, and, in the cooler evening hours, it syncs up perfectly with life on the street.
Recently, I headed to Khlong Toey Market. Bangkok’s largest fresh market and the nerve center for the restaurant industry. This is where it all comes from. From fruits and veggies to meat and more. If you can eat it, it’s here wholesale.
On the way there, it is sad to see the creep of “for rent” signs and people pulling out their equipment and shuttering their businesses. Picking up stakes and heading to the countryside. Back to the family home to lie low for a while. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming, too, to see the food lines. They grow longer and more numerous each day. First a couple dozen. Then a couple hundred and now, in places, the line circles around the block. But that’s hope. People caring for other people.
In the market it is still a hustle bustle world. A hustle here, a hustle there. And like a couple weeks ago, behind the masks are some looks of desperation. People who have mouths to feed back home. Or kids to educate. People who are one global pandemic shut down from losing it all.
These are the folks I worry about the most. The ones who just want to make a difference for their family. They scrap and scrape to send money back home. They’ve bought into the idea that I just gotta work hard and the good times will come. If I arrange my melons just a little bit better, or if the legs on all my shrimp line up just right, I’ll make it up the next rung of the ladder.
Then when the bottom drops out, people get hungrier and more desperate. And along comes a salesperson promising a new way of life. A promise of wealth and ease.
If you’re hungry enough, a shit sandwich can look like a steak dinner. And so you buy whatever their selling and poof! You’re trapped and subjugated. A commodity to be used for a while and tossed down the slopes of whatever pyramid scheme you were sold.
I am in grumpy old man mode, and it is hard to see the hope. It takes a while to find it. Despite the hard times, folks still show up for work. They ice, they clean, they arrange, they scrub. I guess the hope is in the action.
The vendors vend. The trash collectors collect, groups of people gather and break down a side of beef with supreme efficiency, and in the midst, the children play. All the best cowboys may have chinese eyes, but all the best smiles have Thai eyes. Even the masks can’t obscure the hope they hold.
I head home. Turning down a quiet side street headed home. Motion drew my eye to a tall and slender woman hula hooping in her doorway. Draped in a #10 Messi shirt, she just swayed there in time to the Earth, Wind and Fire in my head. Our eyes met and she broke into a wide grin, never breaking sway. I took that as a final sign of hope for the day.
Full disclosure, 4 years ago, I took a trip to Jerusalem. My dog was so critically ill, I fully expected to return to her demise. I went to the Wailing Wall, placed my hand in the hand prints of a hopeful million before me and I prayed for either her recovery or an easy passage to the next life.
When I came home 4 days later, she fell over in front of me and pissed on the rug. But actually the next day she improved, and eventually almost fully recovered and lived 3 more, very neurotic years. So, that sort of quieted the cynic in me.
But this week, I was struggling to decide if the cynic was winning.
Were the thoughts and prayers helping anything? I don’t know. I mean, my dog got better. And after she died, we prayed and that felt better. But, over 150,000 people have died so far. Some people must have prayed for them. I suppose there are those who got better. There must be some miracles in that group. We have no way of knowing the rate of demise if no one had prayed for them.
And the 150,000 people who did die, the Christophers, the Carliones, the Ahmadis, they deserve a quiet send off into the ether. I suppose that prayer is pretty powerful. If not for them, then for the 150,000 sets of friends and family who loved them.