What We Prayed For This Rosh Hashanah

We prayed for more money. We prayed for a new job, a better job. We prayed not to get fired from this job, because we were sure this was the best job we would ever be offered and things would never be this good again. We prayed to get fired, because we’d been saving up things we hated in a list in our heads, and we wanted so badly to just walk out but we knew we couldn’t, we prayed for G-d to step in, we prayed for someone else to take care of it, because we couldn’t. We prayed for the strength to stick it out at this job, because we hated it but we needed a paycheck or because we didn’t need the paycheck but we needed something to do all day or because we didn’t need either of those things, we just were afraid of the alternative, of endless TV watching and not having an excuse why we didn’t write that novel we’d always dreamed about writing.

We prayed for a new pet. A small one, preferably. A kitten or a fish, maybe a ferret. Something that wouldn’t take up too much space. Something that wouldn’t need too much love. We were busy. We were rarely at home. We were at home too much. We were at home just the right amount of time, and we wanted someone to spend it with, someone to make us not so alone. Maybe a dog. Maybe a big dog. Maybe a dog that would jump on us every time we walked into a room, so warm-blooded that just standing next to him was like hugging him, so big it would jump on us and knock us down. Or maybe something smaller, more manageable, something that wouldn’t demand a whole set of new prayers. Mice were too much like furry insects. Rabbits, maybe, but didn’t they have babies like nobody’s business? We could put it in the hands of G-d. But G-d helps those who help themselves, and one pet sounded like quite enough for us.

We prayed for Trump to lose. We prayed for Trump to win. We prayed for Trump, and his soul. We prayed for someone else to enter the race. We prayed no one worse would enter the race. We prayed the entire race would be forfeit, the entire country would collectively throw our arms in the air and walk away. We prayed that he would work out, that he was the lesser of two evils, that he would fill all of our dreams and not turn out to be what we’d secretly feared all along. We prayed the same thing about us, because, secretly or openly, deep down or on the most shallow and kneejerk of levels, what we thought about him was what we thought about ourselves.

We prayed that G-d would watch over us. We prayed that G-d would notice us. We prayed that we would slip under G-d’s radar and G-d wouldn’t notice any of the bad things we’d done this year, any of the ways we’d screwed up, any of the good things we’d forgotten to do. We prayed we would’t be regarded as bad neighbors, negligent friends or spoiled children, though we knew in our hearts that was exactly what we were. We prayed G-d would remember the good deeds we barely remembered doing, the stray smiles of support across the classroom and workspace and bedroom, the not-speaking-out-but-not-shutting-up, the envelopes of charity we filled out but forgot to mail, the apologies we’d only made in our heads. Keep us alive another year, we prayed, and we will make them, and we will mail them. That was what we were, too.

We prayed for an end to violence. We prayed for violence in our names against those people we hated, those people we thought should not be here. We prayed for violence only in faraway places, only against faraway people, people we couldn’t imagine really existed. We prayed for violence, but only a specific kind of violence. Violence that would defend us. Violence that would keep us safe. We prayed for violence all over the world, a violence that would end in terrible explosions that wiped everyone out, because only then could we stop being afraid.

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We prayed for all sorts of things. We knew prayer wasn’t supposed to ask G-d for things. We knew prayer was supposed to thank G-d for the things we already had. And we have so many things already, we know that too. But we couldn’t help asking for just one more.

We prayed for change. We prayed for things to stay the same. We prayed that G-d do whatever G-d wanted to with us, because we couldn’t handle the choices, we couldn’t even handle praying for things to go one way or the other. We are your dice, we whispered, roll us however You want us to turn up. We hoped You would listen. We hoped we wouldn’t be faced with making our own decisions.

We prayed for certainty. We prayed for sureness. We prayed for a lack of certainty, because we knew that once we were absolutely sure about doing something, then we’d have to do it. We slammed our hands into our hearts and hit lightly. We hit hard, deep enough to draw blood, deep enough to bruise, which was like drawing blood but under the skin, without the mess. We kept it to ourselves. We shouted it out to the world. We shared it with the world.


This is very loosely based on Julie Otsuka’s tiny novel The Buddha in the Attic, which is totally worth checking out.