Some friends of mine came back from India and found a church. There at the church, someone thought it was something they should share with the congregation, their experiences, their stories. I figured I’d go, a kind of gesture of support. That and besides, I didn’t have a car. We were going to the same place afterward, and I needed a ride.
The church was like everywhere else trying to be something different. There was some modest, uneventful singing. Someone seated on a cajon. The recitation of words on a screen. It was a small church, no more than twenty five people. Silence felt conspicuous. I read the words like everyone else.
After another song, the friends stood up and told their India story. I wondered again why I had come. I was tired of India. There were other ways of getting places, ways that didn’t go through some church. The bus, for one. Still, I sat there watching faces across the room, half-listening, half-observing the familiar points of interest. There was Kolkata again, its impossible colors, its flooded streets of mud. There were the homes for the destitute, the dying. Their festering wounds, their withered, fledgling limbs. And then, the miracles, the healings. I’d heard it all a month before, when I picked one of them up from the airport in Phoenix. We stayed up through the night, him pacing around the room while I sat sweating over a cup of Darjeeling. On top of everything else, he’d also fallen in love. It all seemed like a lot to me, but who was I to say what was what? I wasn’t in love with anyone. I was halfway through a strange and rudderless summer, the first and last back home from school. I was drinking until I couldn’t see straight. Until I sat spinning on piano benches, pounding away at the same four chords, singing songs no one had asked to hear. Meanwhile, my friends had seen God at work. They had discovered the power of their prayers.
There was a scatted clapping of hands. My friends had finished their story and taken their seats. The pastor stood up and said something, but I wasn’t listening anymore. A couple in the row in front of me rotated their chairs around to face us. All around the room people were gathering together in groups like this, smiling, their mouths tugged backwards at the sides. Who knows what these people made of it all, what they thought about anything. I couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.
I went across the street and found a bench underneath a tree. It was all something I wanted to believe in. Something I even tried to believe in. India. Intercessory prayer. When my friend came back, he’d given me a book about it. I’d read it those nights I came staggering home, in the dizzying sunken hours prior to sleep. One night, I set it aside and closed my eyes. I threaded my fingers together. I even got on my knees. It was a boy at work that I had thought of, that made me try at all. He was six or seven, this boy. He had a rare breathing disease. He wasn’t allowed to run in the gym, wasn’t allowed to play. Instead, he’d crawl up and down the baseline, like a fetching dog, frowning, rolling dodge balls back into play. I don’t know how long I knelt there, tottering on the floor, thinking of this poor boy. Waiting for words to give way to belief.
That was the beginning and end of my days as a healer. Back in the park, I looked up at the tree above me, its arms slack with the weight of its years, unable to hold itself up on its own. Support poles were buried into the dirt beneath it, propping it up, willing it onward. I thought about the church, still going across the street, the liturgy from before, the words I’d said and didn’t believe. What did it matter in the end, this thing invisible to anyone else—belief? What kind of person withholds good for its sake, keeps the blind blind, the sick sick? I coughed and spit in the dirt at my feet. God, I supposed.
It was another hour before the service ended, before I saw my friends come out of the double doors, looking to see where I had gone. I sat there watching the wind move through the trees. I watched a squirrel do its squirrel thing, hauling something I couldn’t see—a nut, an acorn, a shiny piece of trash. I watched it bury it in the ground.