Is Any Thing Too Hard for the Lord?
Doug and Willow sat in their idling car, silently praying. In front of them, blocking the way, was a pickup truck waiting to turn left off of Millville-Oxford Road. The yellow taillight flashed and flashed; cars streamed steadily from the other direction. Independently, privately, Doug and Willow had started praying because of where the driver of the truck was trying to go, because he was waiting to turn into the parking lot for Tuxedo Video. They had passed this store many times. The sign in front said ALL THE HOT LADIES. They had protested this store many times in their hearts.
Doug’s prayer, for one, was increasingly agitated the longer they sat there. It was as though God had decided to fill the road up with a single enormous stumbling block. I know I am strong in You, he was praying with determination. Your love makes me strong. He gripped the steering wheel, holding on. When the phrase You gave us Your only son came into his mind, he winced.
Meanwhile, Willow prayed in her calm way, an active calm against the steady discomfort she felt in her waking hours, and sometimes in her sleeping ones. She had worked hard to create a haven of serenity around her life; it was from that haven that her prayers rose in this moment. Let this man be led into righteousness by Your love, she was saying in her mind, in her heart. Let him be brought close to You, where all his needs will be met in You. The prayers rose up slowly and lightly, like bubbles.
The cars continued to come from the other direction. The truck in front of them was gigantic, on outsize wheels and a high suspension, its taillight still flashing and flashing. Behind Doug and Willow the line of cars going their same way grew long. Occasionally there was a person walking on the sidewalk on this side of the road or that.
Doug felt hemmed in. They could neither move ahead to the restaurant where they wanted to eat, where they wanted to have a small conversation about nothing important, nor could they turn back to their house and pick up that same hard conversation they’d been having for months now. Doug prayed. Let this road open up before us, he thought. Then he added: Let all roads open up before us. Then he added: All Your roads. All righteous roads.
Willow closed and opened her eyes slowly. She, too, wanted to go to that restaurant and be happy with her husband over a nice meal. It was not a fancy restaurant but she was wearing a pretty blue dress all the same. She touched the fabric here and there, noticed that her hand was hovering around her waist and removed it to her lap, returning her thoughts to the truck driver. May he learn Your ways, Your abundant love.
Doug thought he saw a gap in the oncoming traffic a ways ahead. Maybe the truck would be able to turn. But of course he didn’t want him to turn—not into the parking lot of that place. He was amazed that the driver could make so visible his desire to go there, sitting in traffic with his turn signal on, waiting patiently in front of everyone. May this man grow courage in You, he thought. A small part of him, though, did want the man to turn, even if it meant that the man would be giving in to his sinful nature, just so Doug and Willow could go forward and have the night they needed. He felt shame at the realization. Please give that strength to me, he prayed. He felt shame at that prayer, too.
Willow saw in her own heart a small wish that the driver would turn, but she allowed her calm to encircle that wanting and absorb it. She let better words rise in her soul. Let him no longer turn away from the straight path, she prayed. She was surprised by the aptness of the words. Let him set aside his inclination to stray and instead go forward with You. Her calm grew round with joy at the thoughts that were coming to her. She was sorting through the words stray neither to the left nor to the right, feeling a powerful prayer build, when the gap in the oncoming traffic reached them.
Doug wished the truck would just turn, if it was going to turn.
Willow exulted. Even now, the truck driver could still change his mind and drive forward. The truck, in fact, was not turning, though the cars had stopped coming. It wasn’t turning! In full joy she let the words Love is a straight path rise up, but before she could add to You she saw the woman—the woman and her stroller. She was on the sidewalk, walking and blocking the entrance to Tuxedo Video’s parking lot. Heavy, wearing a white t-shirt with a beer advertisement on the front, the woman walked behind her stroller, smoking a cigarette—and in the stroller, Willow knew, was some still-perfect creature. Willow’s right hand, as had become its habit over these months, went involuntarily to her flat tummy.
Doug knew that she was holding what she felt keenly to be her emptiness. Whatever he’d been striving for in his prayers now left him altogether. In his heart he cursed the truck driver, the video store, cursed the mother walking her stroller alongside the road. Where could she have been coming from, and where could she have been going? He cursed them all, ashamed of his bitterness but unable to resist it. Unless—unless maybe he had to. Doug breathed in deeply and returned fully to his body, there in the car. He told himself, We will be all right. He reached over and took his wife’s left hand. It was not for him to tell her what to do with her right hand; it was only for him to hold her left one.
Willow took her husband’s hand and was still again. She felt that the certainty of the world was so small that it could be held there between their hands. That it was, in fact, held there.
The woman and her baby passed.
The truck turned into the parking lot.
Doug and Willow, holding hands, drove forward. In both of their heads was the same thought. Love is a straight path, they thought. They prayed.
David Ebenbach is the author of Autogeography, a chapbook of poetry (Finishing Line Press), two collections of short stories—Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press), which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the GLCA New Writer’s Award, and Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House), which won the WWPH Fiction Prize—as well as The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books), a guide to the creative process. Ebenbach has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He teaches creative writing at Georgetown University. www.davidebenbach.com