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Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.
— St. Ignatius Loyola
My dad and I shared a special relationship. He was more than a doting and a caring father. He was my friend too. I did not always talk to him about my problems, my adolescent angst, but he was there if ever I needed him. He never questioned me about anything. He knew me enough to trust me and to do the right thing. That in itself was reassuring. He saw me through my childhood, my teens and my early twenties, and then he died, in the youth of his midlife. He was only 55.
I was proud of dad because I always thought I’d something none of my friends did. I have no doubt they felt the same way about their dads too. There were times when I couldn’t tell what role he’d assumed, the father who patiently taught me English and History or the friend with whom I solved the London Times cryptic crossword and played marathon games of chess. He taught me almost everything I needed to know in my young days.
Dad left me with plenty of good memories; they were uplifting stories, actually, filled with hope and happiness; stories I recall and learn from nearly three decades after his passing. I remember one in particular.
During my school days in Goa, the picturesque beach state on the west coast of India, I used to ask dad to pray just before I was to appear for an exam. For some reason I believed his faith was stronger than my mother’s or mine and that it’d see me through an insurmountable Math paper. It probably didn’t occur to me at the time that dad would’ve prayed for me anyway.
On exam day, I’d plead with him—“Hey dad, don’t forget to pray for me? I got Algebra today.”
And he was always quick to put me at ease. He’d tell me in our native Konkani, “You know I won’t, son. You’re going to do well in your paper.”
I didn’t share his optimism. He was that way about most things in life. If I fared less than average or even failed in Math, it wasn’t because his prayers lacked the power to sway the Supreme Architect in my favour. Rather, it was because I’d little faith in my own and because I didn’t pay heed to the familiar expression ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Which meant that if I didn’t help myself, by practicing hard and keeping my end of the bargain, God was simply going to stand over my shoulder, hands behind His back, and watch me blunder my way through a Quadratic Equation.
It wasn’t until after I was out of school I realised that asking dad to pray for me was like asking him to take my exam for me. It didn’t work that way.
Like nearly everything else in life, I’d to work my way through school—in this case draw up a study timetable, put my heart into my lessons, give my best shot on exam day, and pray like hell that I passed with some colour, green and yellow, if not flying colours. Along the way if dad wished me luck and sent up a silent prayer, that was extra bonus.
Over the years, I have often wondered how God might have felt about this whole prayer of attorney thing. I imagine He doesn’t like a prayer by proxy. I bet He wants me, call direct. I can even make a collect call if I like. He won’t mind that. Just so long as I’m the one talking to him. Palms folded. Straight from the heart. I think He’d like that.
On another occasion, when I approached dad to send up one of his divine entreaties, he took me to the balcony, pointed to the clear night sky and said to me with deep conviction—“Do you think, He, who listens to millions of prayers every day, is not going to listen to yours? Show me one place where He isn’t. The universe is filled with His presence.” And then he touched my heart and smiled, “He’s in there, too, you know.” I couldn’t argue with that.
So whether I prayed or not, it was comforting to know that the universal Guardian was already looking out for me and billions of others. All He wanted in return was simply my faith, as sure and steadfast as the rising sun, and all would be well with my Math paper and with my life.