Some sort of a prayer
I gave a rambling talk recently and a long line of teenagers came
Up to speak to me afterward and it was instantly clear that every
Single one of them wanted to ask me something while ostensibly
Asking me something else, or say one thing while seeming to say
Something else. I was so instantly moved I could hardly stammer
Any sort of answer. I tried hard to hear what they were not saying
Aloud but were saying with remarkable courage. It takes startling
Courage to be a teenager, you know. There are so many theatrical
Personas to try, but masks and disguises can get stuck. Or you get
Trapped behind walls that begin as protective but become prisons.
One kid in particular stays with me. He’s tall and shy and nervous.
He says How do you deal with rejection? and somehow I instantly
Get it that he does not mean essays and stories and poems and how
You handle people saying steadily bluntly no to your insistent yes!
He’s asking me about hope and despair and lovers and heartbreaks.
He’s asking about the girl or boy he adores who does not love him.
He’s staring at me. The other kids wait politely. I want to reach up
And cup his face in my hands as if he was my son, but you have to
Be honest with kids, you cannot merely bloviate and issue arrogant
Pomposity, so I tell him you have to learn to be neighborly with no.
You are going to see it every day and you might as well be friendly
With the concept. Someone else’s no doesn’t actually kill your yes;
It only means that someone else’s yes is still out there waiting. You
See where I am going here? There’s more yes than no, is what I am
Trying to say. I suppose that’s what we mean by faith. Faith’s a big
Word, bigger than any religion. It means yes where everything sure
Looks like no as far as you can see. Am I making the slightest sense
Here, son? I actually call him son. The other kids must have thought
I was being avuncular but for a brief moment he was indeed my son,
And yours too. We shook hands and he held only my hands just a bit
Longer than the usual thing, which I took to be some sort of a prayer.