I must have been about nine or ten years old. My friends and I were making boats out of scrap lumber to float in Farmer's Ditch, an irrigation canal that ran just across a great open field above my house. My best friend, or what I understood to be my best friend, provided the hammers and nails, and a great deal of the criticism that went into the creation of our vessels. His father was a carpenter, and he made sure that we all understood that, regardless of the features or unique traits of our boats, his would be superior.
We worked for some time, until almost noon. Then we went to our bikes and road to the concrete bridge. We decided to ride as pairs: one on the front pedaling while the other balanced carefully and clutched a pair of boats to his chest. We rode the quarter mile to the ditch, laughing and trying to keep from crashing into a fence, or a bush or simply toppling over from the sheer exertion. When at last we reached the bridge, there were six of us - three bikes full. We each made careful last minute adjustments to our crafts and then, with little or no ceremony, set them loose on the rushing torrent of the creek in May. As soon as they started to disappear downstream, we raced to our bikes and began to speed down the trail after them. Our pursuit was hindered by numerous shrubs and twists in the rutted path. We could still see all six boats as we neared the first culvert where the water went under the street. We had to stop and get off the bikes to walk them up to the street level where we had to wait for the traffic to let us across. I could feel the boats slipping further away from us. When we got to the other side of the street and got back on the bikes, my best friend asked me, "What are you doing?"
Since we lost sight of the last boat, I had been muttering under my breath. "Praying," I replied without the hesitation that might have saved me everlasting torment. My pal, my best buddy, my neighbor and friend since Kindergarten stopped the bike.
He nearly fell over laughing. "Praying?" he snorted. "For what?"
I felt myself go red and wanted to disappear, but answered, "For the boats." The rest of the guys had caught up to us by then, and they joined in the guffaws. "I was praying that the boats would be okay."
I don't remember how I got home that day. I want to believe that I walked home alone. Alone in my embarrassment. Alone in my shame. Alone in my theological quandary. I want to believe that I wrestled with the questions of faith and God and Man, but I know that's not what happened. I rode back to our neighborhood on the back of my tormentor's Stingray, gripping tightly to the bar at the back of the banana seat so as not to exacerbate my already imploding self-esteem by holding on to another boy's waist. We didn't laugh on the way home.
Over the years, as the situation presents itself, death, birth, crises or varying proportions, I have been asked by some more caring individuals if I pray. I tend to avoid the question, preferring instead to keep my discussions with higher powers strictly between myself and the deity of my choice. I still pray, just very quietly, and always to myself.