June 20, 2024
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The Power of the Unanswered Prayer

Bing! It’s the middle of the day and my iPhone lights up, notifying me that an email has just arrived. I glance at the screen and see that it is from my children’s school—more specifically, from the nurse. My heart drops. This can only mean one thing: something contagious. Lice.

Please be advised that someone in your child’s class is being treated for lice. All children had their hair examined today, but continue to search at home…

Until this point, my children have never been afflicted. I know that because I just publicly bragged about that, it is likely that my kids’ hair will be teeming with bugs within thirty seconds of this newspaper being delivered. I guess I’ll take that risk. Our turn is due to come.

I suppose we have been quite lucky so far, but I know I’m riding on a streak of good fortune that I probably don’t deserve. You see, in my youth, I actually prayed to get lice. In Shemoneh Esrei. On a regular basis. I wasn’t a big fan of going to school, and my mother was not a fan of letting me stay home. I had to be authentically sick to actually remain at home, and I did not enjoy the flu, stomach virus, or strep. Chicken pox was pretty fun, and gave me a nice amount of time at home, but I had had that already, and developed permanent immunity.

There had to be something else. I might have even consulted the encyclopedia for some ideas, but ended up with a list of two awesome diseases that would be certain to keep me home from school, with minimal pain and discomfort: Conjunctivitis and Lice. And so I prayed for these, beseeching God to please afflict me with these illnesses so that I could stay home from school.

I can almost imagine the scene in Heaven. God “wrote it down” on a post-it note and left it on a pile in my folder, then tended to greater issues other than my need to miss school—a tsunami, a war in Israel, 9-11… And then, 15 years later, He noticed the post-it and, in His mercy, decided to say “YES!” In my 20’s I had repeated chronic bouts of unexplained pink-eye. Again and again. My eyes were exploding; my discomfort was great. I looked like I was always crying. Had I known when I was 10 how bad conjunctivitis really is, maybe I wouldn’t have prayed so fervently.

Our prayers can be answered; sometimes it’s just not the right time. Sadly, my time was when I was 25, and no longer had a fifth grade class to miss. But the thing is, the lice never came. Or at least not yet. The post-it might still be there, highlighted in bold letters on the top of my folder, waiting for the most inconvenient of times to be fulfilled. I want to un-pray my prayers, undo my fate, cancel my wishes. I want to bribe an angel to steal that note from God’s imagined desk, to apologize for wasting my breath on so many meaningless pleas. Maybe I still can, or else I should stock up on lice shampoo.

“I don’t like school, except for the first day, the last day, and winter break,” my daughter told me the night before she began third grade. And I see the desire to stay home is hereditary, leaping through all of my children, along with the shape of my eyes, the curvature of my bones. They cry and fight and burst into a jealous rage when a sibling is home sick and gets to miss school. “It’s not fair! I want to be sick!” they beg, and I understand, because I also wanted it. And I wanted it on my terms.

But it’s not on our terms; it never is. The best I can do now is to pray that the swarming cloud of lice doesn’t make its way to my house, hovering over us and descending in a moment of itchy splendor. And I pray that my kids don’t have their own agenda with God, sending up virtual post-it notes, begging and pleading for a lice epidemic behind my back.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be found at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com.

By Sarah Abenaim

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