On a day when I was feeling particularly low, a wise friend had this to say: “Just remember that the life you’re living is an answered prayer.” It snapped me into humility, because what she said described my life perfectly, down to the blanket I sleep under every night. At first, my prayers started small. I wanted to stop participating in my own death by addiction. When that prayer was answered, I dared to expand my request; perhaps I could move out and live on my own? That one was answered, too. I started dreaming bigger. How about that husband and children I’d told everyone I never wanted because I was too afraid I’d never get them? Check and check. Finally, I allowed myself the one prayer that scared me the most: I wanted to write a book.
For years, I sat on this prayer, waiting for a story to come. Then one day, my mother called to tell me she was dying of cancer. Some instinct started me writing, and I kept with it for the next six weeks, recording the experience of watching my mother die. At the time, I had no other intention for this work but to get it all down on paper, to give myself some kind of outlet during the most intense time of my life. Before she passed away, my mother asked me if I would write her story, and I realized that I had already begun.
It took about a year after her death for me to be able to look at those frantic notes and start cobbling them into something. Over the next seven years, interspersed with the births of two babies, several moves, hundreds of crack-of-dawn writing sessions and thousands of edits, the project took on a life of its own, pushing me, possessing me, demanding to be written. Like Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.” This was absolutely true in my case; no matter how far off the finish line seemed, I had no choice but to keep going.
And then, just like that, I’d written a book. I called it “The Cape House,” after the beloved summer home where my mother died.
My prayer had been answered.
It’s surreal to watch a dream unfold. Until now, the trajectory of my life propelled me toward this goal; I lived in a perpetual state of “Before This Happens”. Now that it’s happened, I am suddenly standing in an open question: What Comes After?
I have no clear answer. Yet. While I wait for one, I will do as my friend Jen advised me in “The Cape House”: Wake up, get dressed, and put on the coffee. Just do the business of living and watch what else this prayer serves up.
And in the meantime, I’ll wonder what to pray for next.