Tag Archives: writing

What I Wish I’d Said To The Man Who Offered Me A Prayer

Would you like a prayer for anything today, ma’am? 

No thank you, I said. We wished each other a good day with a smile apiece and I dashed down into the subway station. I believe in saying no to everyone (except those people collecting signatures to get a candidate on a ballot). But, having worked these grueling street gigs before, I never ignore the person or withhold a smile.

On this morning, though, I was almost-late for a client meeting. When I flicked my eyes at the red fabric banners held up between what looked like white PVC pipes, I saw ‘Prayer Station’ in large white letters. Oh boy, I thought to myself, the evangelists are here! If I’d had extra time I would’ve walked to a different subway entrance.

As I caught my breath on the platform, waiting for my train, I wondered whose format was he using: Which church bought the red apron he wore, printed the flyers in his pockets? I smiled imagining the conversation I might have instigated. I’m pretty sure those weren’t going to be neutral, platform-agnostic, open-source-type prayers.

I sat down on the scratched-up wooden station bench, and a lump formed in my throat. It was a lovely thought, the prayer offering. A free magic service. How wonderful and beautiful and healing it could be to offer poems to subway riders. I pictured myself on that hot street corner, poems in hand. Pen ready for service. It’d be no different. A fragment of belief, a flash of communion with the deeper and higher and interconnected world.

And it hit me: A prayer for peace! I would desperately like to suggest he pray for peace in the Middle East. But I missed my chance. Now I felt regretful—was that crazy?

Who knows what these prayers do—they certainly haven’t ended the violence yet—but in a world so raw and rough, can prayers or poems really be superfluous? As a poet, I believe I’m obligated to believe in their magic and necessity. (Or at least in their possibility—even nuns and rabbis wrestle with belief.) So in his way, that young man got me to make my prayer, my wish. And I hope in this moment the feeling of a poem or a prayer grasps you, and you allow it to stay for a moment.

We are human beings, inventors of new forms of beauty and wonder. We conjured the sonnet and the prayer from nothing. That in itself seems worthy of a moment of thanks.

A note: This morning run-in happened in July, when every morning had new and horrible headlines about Israel and the Palestinians. It was a summer of terrible news and feelings of helplessness, and unfortunately, the need for words and deeds is no less urgent this fall. 

Bonus: If you feel hungry for some feelings and don’t see them anywhere inside yourself, let me invite you to check out Poetry’s app, a beautiful little gem to keep in your pocket. When you open it, you hit the Spin button and two wheels spin past each other, matching moods and subjects and generating a list of poems to explore.


Celebrating Great Books For Real Girls



In the frosty, early months of 2014, when there was still snow on the ground, a former (and fabulous) boss put me in touch with some very exciting entrepreneurs. Saira Rao and Carey Albertine came together a few years ago to take everything they’d learned in their careers in writing, television, and law, and form a social-purpose media venture called In This Together Media. Their goal? To put more, better, and relatable female (and racially diverse) characters into the world of children’s media—which has long been dominated by white, boy characters.

A social-purpose business, scrappy entrepreneurship, and books — I was hooked. Saira and Carey brought me up to speed on just how dismal the gender and race balance still is in children’s books, and I brainstormed ideas with them about more fun things they could be doing to highlight their books and mission. Then we made this really fun video together!

And it seems like they’re gaining traction. This summer, they were featured in Fast Company’s Most Creative People. This is some very deserved recognition! Seeing characters that reflect who we are gives us a sense of belonging and lets us see new possibilities for ourselves in the wider world. In honor of their work, I thought I’d reflect on a just a few books whose girls meant a lot to me when I was growing up:

  • Betsy, of Understood BetsySure she’s from 1916. But she gave me dreams of someday trying freshly tapped maple syrup poured onto snow to firm up and eat.
  • Vicky, of A Ring Of Endless LightThis gal could telepathically communicate with dolphins, and I was sure that one day, I would too.
  • Elizabeth, of Sweet Valley High (and Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Junior High, Sweet Valley University, Sweet Valley Thrillers, etc.). Two identical twins starred in this series—Elizabeth and Jessica—and while the whole world mixed them up, any girl reading could keep them straight and tell you which twin was her avatar. And I was an Elizabeth, bookish and rule-following, all the way.

Okay, I told you mine. Now you tell me yours?

Sweet Valley High
A Ring Of Endless Light
Understood Betsy