Trapeze Prayers

trapezeJules Léotard soared above the amazed French crowd. They had never seen anything like him. The world had never seen anything like Jules. The ‘daring young man’ created the art of the flying trapeze act in 1859. He let go. From one trapeze to the next, he flew through the air—an enchanting mystery of bravery. He’d grab the next trapeze in just a few seconds, but for the moment, he swung suspended only by air and strength, conquering even gravity. In his day, there was no net.

Here I am, swinging between trapezes. Suspended between what I’ve known and what will become known but now remains distant, these are the years of adventure. They are the years of freedom and beauty and flight. They are terrifying, and it seems like gravity could win at any moment and I could crash.

These final days of college bring back memories of the trapezes of my early days. The leap from day to night ended with a prayer, “And God bless Mommy and Daddy (and Hannah and Rebekah) and Sarah and God send angels to watch over her and protect her and give her a good night sleep. Amen!” My dad’s prayer fell perfectly between the stuffed animal story and the closing of my eyes.

Sometimes, I didn’t remember my dad’s prayers. In the forgetfulness, fears slipped in. I remember clutching the white Bible my grandparents had gotten me for Easter, wondering if the words I couldn’t completely read would protect me from the burglars I was sure were going to come and steal my baby doll. I read Genesis 1:1, afraid of car crashes that could take my parents like they took my grandfather. My daddy’s prayers were the words I couldn’t yet really read, the words of hope to the greater Father. They covered me as I swung from the trapeze of wake to sleep, of day to day.

And, somehow, I grew up. I laughed with friends and stayed up later to read stories on my own, and somewhere along the way, the prayers were no longer part of my nighttime routine. My fears changed—I was scared of this new future. I was scared of the great trapeze leap from middle school to high school, and then, from high school to college.

My parents and sisters filled the van with all my new stuff. We unpacked, and we ate a last lunch. For the first time, I walked my parents to their car instead of the other way around. Under the trees that were green with hope, my sisters gave me sweet hugs. Then, as a few quiet tears escaped my mom’s blue eyes—just like they did when she dropped me off at kindergarten—my daddy prayed: “… and God bless Sarah. Send angels to watch over her and protect her… Amen.” They drove away. I walked to my new dorm room.

In four lovely years, my dad’s prayers have been answered. I’ve been blessed. I’m more loathe than I’ve ever been to let go of the trapeze. It is as if someone is slowly pulling off my fingers, one by one, and I’m sure I’m going to fall instead of fly.

Heavy with the fears, I climb the stairs to the writing center. Four years of hours spent in the peaceful room hit me as I realize I’m encountering another last. My favorite ‘student’ comes in. She has learned the hardest and best lessons of life for sixty-nine years, and still she comes to me for help with papers. She sparkles with energy I envy. She’ll show me pictures of her great-grandchildren, and then we’ll dive into the editing; it is a tradition on which I can depend.

We finished her final paper, and she asked if she would see me around next year. I told her I was graduating, and she asked if she could pray with me. Hands that cradled baby dolls in 1952 curled around mine. She gave me the best benediction I could imagine.

I’ll miss tutoring with Ms. Sylvia. I’ll miss my breakfasts with Mr. Bob. I’ll miss donut dates with Kayla. I’ll miss nighttime prayers with Stephanie. I’ll miss sitting next to Hannah in class. I’ll miss JRol’s jokes. I’ll miss the late nights of laughter. I’ll miss the mornings of joyful learning as I scribble down every bit of Dr. Borchert’s psychology wisdom, of Dr. Pettegrew’s history facts, and of Dr. O’Neal’s literature lessons. I’ll miss Dr. Butcher’s daily benediction, “Go forth and conquer, oh you mighty ones.” I’ll miss making tea with Ruthie and Brittany. I’ll miss the old leather couch in the BCM office. I’ll miss the times Gary the mailman takes my letter and says, “this one’s on me.” I’ll miss Thursday breakfasts with Jonathan and Marco. I’ll miss library trips with Rebekah. I’ll miss the adventures with my friends. I’ll miss the way I know where each path leads. And as they begin to fade, I’ll miss even the memories.

But, God has surrounded me and protected me indeed. Unlike Jules, I have a net. My net is also my Sustainer and Creator, my Refuge and my Strength. He is the one to whom I swing. He is the one to whom these prayers that bookend my college experience are offered.

I let go, but I don’t swing alone. These friends and all the things I’ll miss are just a glimpse of the Father whose love surrounds me and never lets me fall. Though my fears that I’d thought I’d have outgrown by now only grow more intense, the love has grown with the fears. But in the suspended moment, I best remember that Christ is my hope, my strength, my song, and my swing.

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