My Mom’s Prayer

“I pray for our family to live happy, healthy, safe, and together forever and ever, free from all cancers and diseases our entire lives… ” This is how my mom begins each one of her prayers, and I have memorized the line by accident, the way I have memorized her coffee order—medium hot latte, skim milk, two Splenda—because it has always been there. My mom’s happy-healthy-safe-together mantra was the closing line of each day of my childhood (every night, we recited before-bed Our Father’s or Hail Mary’s, followed by one personal prayer per person), just like her Dunkin’ Donuts coffee order was the opener, and I imagine them each now like a high stakes pep talk between a coach and athletes. Both lines carry a promise of stamina, written into the requests for caffeine and a good, long life, and have woven themselves deep into my worldview … more so the prayer than the coffee order, but I still like to recite it to my mom to show her that I pay attention. 

Happiness is the first point my mom touches on in her prayer and because of that, maybe the most important. In C.S. Lewis’ memoir, Surprised by Joy, happiness is described as a steady feeling of contentment that lasts for a long period of time, while joy is described as a bright flash of emotion that stays for just a moment. Lewis writes that finding happiness is easier than finding joy, but that joy is more rewarding. I can hear Lewis’ idea of steady happiness in my mom’s prayer, and I can see it in almost everything I do. I find comfort in consistency and I don’t like being alone. I hate getting sick. I have a hard time envisioning myself or my family as anything but invincible, even though I know this is not true. I want to be in the mood to smile all the time because, like Will Ferrell as Buddy the elf, “Smiling’s my favorite!” I don’t even like when the sky looks a little gray. But I think of my mom’s words, “free from” and “entire lives,” and wonder who can be free from anything for their entire life. 

I heard once that everyone passes out at least once in their lifetime—I haven’t yet, the countdown continues—and although I would love for this not to be true, it probably is. The older I become, the more I am aware that my mom’s mantra is not an exact wish for nothing but happiness forever. It’s more like watching the showing of a million-dollar home on a reality tv show. The home is beautiful, clean cut and idyllic, but I can’t see myself falling in love with it. It doesn’t have the bedroom I grew up in, painted pink and covered in glow-in-the-dark stars, or my shelf of dog-eared paperbacks. Nor does it have the dent in the wall where my dad’s head landed after a tumble down the stairs, or the bottom corner of the closet door that swung open and pried off my toenail. I still shudder over that. Recognizing the places where I wasn’t happy within my childhood home, the place that makes me the happiest, reminds me that having faith in goodness, health, and togetherness like my mom does means continuing in that faith through sadness, pain, and separation—finding joy even when it is hard to find happiness. Bad things will happen and still, that cozy feeling will outshine them the same way that I prefer my childhood home to a mansion with a cliffside infinity pool in the Hollywood Hills. 

I admire my mom for asking God to protect us while also not getting angry when He can’t. She believes in hope but lives in reality, and the two forces never seem to clash for her. She never asks “why me?” because she believes that everything works out in the end. She even said this to me today, that everything just works out. I like this belief. I have always been an optimist, just like my mom, and tend to wear her same rose colored glasses. I have a friend who asks me how I am so happy all the time, and I finally told her: “I don’t know man, I was just born that way.” Thanks, mom! I believe that people produce goodness when they think positively, so that when life gets difficult, they can still live for joy without being afraid of pain. Praying “…to live happy, healthy, safe, and together forever and ever … ” with my loved ones is the sweetest, most optimistic request I can think of, and it makes me feel grateful to have grown up on a belief that family is the beginning of every prayer and the last thought worth my attention as I close my eyes at night.