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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Prayer When Getting Tennis Balls Out of Trees

by Angier Brock

As regards both distance and accuracy, I haven’t much of a pitching arm, and so the discovery of a tennis-ball-on-a-rope dog toy has facilitated my playing fetch with my dog Joey. I hold the end of the rope, swing it pendulum-like beside me, and let it fly. Some physical law of thermo- or aerodynamics probably explains the magic. With the help of the rope, the distance I can throw the ball is greatly increased—as is the distance Joey runs and the amount of puppyish energy he expends. Life is good.

There remains the matter of accuracy. Another law decrees that you have to get the right trajectory—that is, swing the ball in the correct plane and release it at the precise moment—or the ball-on-a-rope will disappear into the foliage of the nearest crepe myrtle. When that happens, your dog will still think you’re magic. After all, you made the ball vanish. But if you want to keep him using up his energy, you must be the retriever; you must make it reappear. Life goes off course. It leads to unexpected reversals. 

How many of my thrown balls-on-a-rope have gone amok, and how many cumulative hours have I have spent circling the crepe myrtle trying to spot where in the foliage the ball has gotten lodged? Though no one’s keeping statistics, the answer to both is “Lots!” Life is humbling. 

Once I locate the ball in the crepe myrtle, getting it down is sometimes easy. I shake a limb and it falls. Or I throw a shoe and, if I’m lucky (and if the shoe doesn’t get stuck in the branches too), the ball drops. But sometimes the ball has gotten caught in the higher branches with the rope—the very thing that makes it easier for me to throw the ball—entangled. Then I have to go to the shed to get a telescoping pole with a U-hook taped to the end. Sometimes I also need a stepladder. Life is complicated.   

I am writing about this in yet another week filled with grave news: Hurricane Isaac and the Gulf Coast; national political rhetoric that does nothing to solve our economic, social, and environmental problems; the Middle East. Plus I have friends in dire personal circumstances. You probably do too. Stroke. Cancer. Bankruptcy. Daunting, isn’t it?

In spite of what my dog may think, I have no magic, and unlike the television evangelist who once claimed to have prayed away a hurricane headed for the coast of Virginia, my powers are not such that I can send storms or other hardships scuttling. Nevertheless, I do what you probably do. Pray. Deliver food or flowers. Make calls to members of Congress. Give to relief organizations and medical research facilities. And all the while wishing I could do more, prevent more, understand more, fix more. 

That’s where the tennis-ball-on-a-rope comes in. That’s when Joey and I go back outdoors to play. Sometimes the ball goes where I want, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes he fetches it, and sometimes I do. Our activity has no major consequence for anyone or anything. It is nevertheless an act of living. Perhaps, in its own way, it is an also act of faithfulness—even a kind of prayer—for it reminds me that while life is painful, and daunting, and complicated, and humbling, and unpredictable, it is also good. Very good. And I am grateful for that.

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