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Prayer Cycle

How prayer helped one man cope and find his faith again.

Every morning I take a lung-busting aerobic cycling class at my gym then reward my masochistic zeal with a few well-earned minutes of peace and quiet in the steam room.

I love the steam room. Sitting in the thick vaporous clouds tinged with eucalyptus essence…it’s an otherworldly interlude at the beginning of what is usually a pretty busy day, a chance to collect myself mentally and spiritually before the onslaught of daily life.

There is rarely any talking among the men in the steam room; you can barely see your hand in front of your face. Today, though, I overheard a conversation that has stayed with me, between two fleshy smudges sitting across the way.

FIRST MAN: I’m in shock. I found out an old friend of mine has cancer, stage four.

SECOND (older-sounding) MAN: That’s tough.

FM: I mean, he’s my age, like, forty-something? It seems like we were just going to each other’s bachelor parties a few years ago. Now his wife is talking about hospice care. They’ve got two kids. That’s crazy. Last time I saw him he looked great. 

SM: You take life for granted when you’re young, then you reach a stage where people you know start having problems. I went through it a few years ago when my parents got sick, then a colleague who was younger than me, then one of my closest buddies. That really got my attention.

FM: I’m trying not to freak. I just don’t know what to do. I’ve texted him a few times but he doesn’t answer. I don’t want to intrude…

SM: Try praying.

FM: Really? I haven’t done that in years I don’t think.

SM: Neither had I. And I wasn’t about to except that my wife prays. It struck me I was being pretty selfish not to try it. I mean, I used to pray all the time when I was a kid. Then I got out into life, did well and started thinking of myself as a big shot. Who needed prayer? Who had time? I was too busy being master of the universe.

FM: Your friend got better?

SM: No. He died.

[There was pause as another blast of steam came on.]

FM: Didn’t you pray for him to get better?

SM: At first. Then I knew he wasn’t. I prayed that he wouldn’t be frightened or in too much pain, and that his family would be all right. I prayed for most anything I could think of. It didn’t really change the situation, I don’t think, but it changed me.

FM: It did?

SM: It opened me up. I pray all the time now. I don’t know how I got along all those years without it. I don’t know…maybe it’s a life-stage thing. But I understand my wife better, that’s for sure. And it’s a connection. A connection to something I had fallen away from.

Then the second man said he was going to dissolve into a puddle if he didn’t get out. The first man thanked him as he fled. The room was silent again, just the two of us. I could barely make him out through the clouds but I thought his head was bowed and I imagined his lips might be moving.

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