When the Godless Pray

A few days before Christmas last year, my mother's appendix burst. The hospital was two hours away, and by the time she arrived there, she was in bad shape. She underwent an emergency appendectomy and a grueling week in recovery, which damn near killed her. A week later came the pneumonia. It was a scary time for my family — very scary. Everyone knew it wasn't her time to go, and yet this series of events seemed to be spinning her toward the end.

So what did I do? I prayed.

I remember getting the news in the middle of the night (just like Madeline!) that my mom was being rushed to the emergency room. Without judging or second-guessing myself, I clasped my hands together, bowed my head and, in a desperate whisper, repeated the mantra: "Please let her be okay. Please let her be okay. Please let her be okay…"

I prayed again a few days later. This time I was on an airplane, flying 1,500 miles to her bedside. This time, so as not to disrupt my seat mate, I repeated the mantra in my head: "Please let her be okay. Please let her be okay..."

A year later, my mom is alive and well. She spent the last couple weeks doing what she loves more than just about anything — decorating the house with a lifetime's worth of holiday decorations. Some of the things belonged to her beloved father. Some of them she has had since she and my dad were married. Some of them were made by her children and grandchildren. And all of them are like old friends — familiar, loyal and full of memories. I was never so happy to see my mom's Christmas decorations go up as I was this year, the year after we almost lost her.

I can only imagine that someone with faith in God might interpret my mom's wellness as an answer to my prayers — my reward for calling on a higher power to help me through.

But the truth is, I wasn't asking a higher power for help in those dark moments last year. I never am. No matter what's going on in my life, I simply don't believe there's anything at work in the universe besides our marvelous selves. My brain won't let me. It seems, for better or for worse, that I'm missing the Faith gene.

So why do I pray?

Because in those moments of extreme panic and concern, the one thing that makes me feel better is to focus my mind on what I want — what I need — to happen. It is an emotional reaction, having nothing to do with my thoughts and everything to do with my feelings.

To me, praying is an intense form of wishing brought about by a deep focus on my love for other human beings.

A couple of months ago, I threw a surprise birthday party for my husband. Our families flew out from Colorado and Missouri and stayed the weekend with us. So much effort went into the event — all these little details orchestrated months in advance. And when it was over, and our families had returned safely back to their own homes, I thought: "What a magical thing to have happened." Everything went according to plan. The surprise went off without a hitch. All the flights were on time. No one got sick. The weather was perfect. The kids were great. Transportation was never an issue. And everyone had a wonderful time.

I'm not patting myself on the back here. I'm just marveling at how nothing went wrong. All those little details, and nothing went wrong. What are the chances?

There is magic in having things go right. There is magic when people recover from illness, when they give birth to healthy babies, when they get to their destinations on time. In all the things that go as we hoped or expected or orchestrated down to the last detail, there is magic.

And in those moments when I clasp my hands and bow my head and repeat my little mantras, maybe it's my way of hoping for a bit of that magic. The magic that I know for a fact happens every single day. The magic of existence.