Another Serenity Prayer

Susan Pigott

So here’s a question for you, Reinhold Niebuhr: Did you ever take this sinful world as it is, not as you, and I, would have it? And here’s another: In the dark of a deep night, humming your mantra like counting sheep—“Serenity come! Serenity, come.”—did you feel the twelve dance steps of heavy-footed men clutching a bottle like a lithe partner not wincing when they mashed her toe or miss-stepped against her shin, laughing their song from a throat thrown back, a kind of fire swallowed, and she whispering how serene they might be spinning her away for God, and they turned little one, the child they maybe never got to be?

So . . . how for me to mute the trumpeting brass mouths, their corrosive-green patina, and I can’t change the channel, lie down beside still waters? And always one child, sleepy, driving home at night on black-top roads, deer poised to bolt across headlights. Always a wind stirring itself into that finger flicking the poorest neighborhood, families in bed, having prayed If I should die before. . . . And from a lineup of expendables, my friend who never hesitated to go in search of the lost lamb and lifting it from the brambles, lay it across his shoulders and rejoiced all the way back to the flock, my friend wrenched from the line and cast into the back-room chair from which he cannot rise, and all I keep seeing is the grinning official poking my friend’s chest and not mine. And the refugees toppled into turbulent waters, and young women strapped with explosives, and the bubble of blood bursting in my running partner’s cerebrum, and always the book I’ve spent my days writing, for what?

So Reinhold, I get it. Life’s the Void of Acceptance, Courage, Wisdom . . . , but sometimes, after church, stepping from the BMW for Sunday’s Subway foot-long spicy Italian sandwich with honey mustard, we cannot take our eyes off the couple, probably homeless, seeming to have no need to bear each other up, what burdens they claim tucked in a child’s wagon each takes turns pulling, now across the empty parking lot to the curbed sidewalk elevated before the Sunday storefronts unattended, where they spread their picnic cloth, a touch of grace, what they recollect from paintings visited in museums with heat and benches, a proper perspective for viewing, holding hands, her head resting on his shoulder, his bowed as if meditating. Today, the sun is high, perspective against a blank sky, for now the coming chill at bay, and having spread such repast saved from breakfast bread and fish sticks blessed and broken for each in line at the mission, serene, they eat their fill.

Susan Pigot