Monday, November 15, 2010

The Silver Lining

It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and again, I do something remarkable. The kinds of things that would be routine for over-achievers are novel for occasional-achievers like me, so I try to enjoy the satisfaction for as long as I can.

One of the fastest ways to spoil my enjoyment of an accomplishment is to get my mother to weigh in on it. Try it sometime. Next time you’re in the same room as my mother and me, ask me about something cool I’ve done and see what happens.

In every example from recent memory, the conversation goes something like this.

Well wisher: “I hear you graduated with a first class honours degree, how did you manage that?”
Sully: “Well...”
Mother: “I was down on bended knee!”
Well wisher: “Eh?”
Mother: “I was praying for him the whole time. His exams started at eleven, so I’d start praying at five to-”
Sully: “My exams started at 9am this year-“
Mother: “And I wouldn’t stop praying until I knew he was finished”
Sully: “Well, actually, there was a lot of project work in addition to--“
Mother:  “Our Lady of the Wayside, she hasn’t let you down yet”
Well wisher: “Our Lady of the Wayside? What’s that?”
Mother: “It’s a prayer for students and young people. It’s done wonders for all my lads--”
Sully: “But, younger Sully failed out of college.”
Mother: “Shush – that was the best thing that could have happened to him.”
Sully: “He also failed his driving test three times.”
Mother: “And he never gave up! Our Lady of the Wayside! It’s wonderful!”

Yes, my mother believes in intercessory prayer, and petitions me ceaselessly to integrate the pointless exercise – actively trying to distract me away from preparing for whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.

At the last family gathering, one of the observers of this ritual was a priest. After pithily remarking that her favoured prayer “must be a traveller’s prayer”, he nodded sympathetically when I bemoaned her lack of recognition for all the hard work and preparation that brought about the spoils of victory.

Priests will admit what my mother won’t. Prayer doesn’t get work done. Work gets work done. If you pray for something (like my younger brother passing his exams and staying in college) and don’t get your way, you shouldn’t be able to rationalize it by saying that the actual outcome was better anyhow. If your prayers won’t change the outcome, why continue to waste your time? The system lacks a consistent inner-logic.

Last week, I interviewed for a (pretty cool) job. I poured countless hours of effort into preparing, and my mother insisted on ‘chipping in’ herself. She told everybody who’d listen about her efforts on my behalf, and how she “had a feeling” that I was going to get it. I didn’t get the job, but the disappointment was immediately allayed by the recognition that Our Lady of the Wayside had let me down. A-ha!

Of course, this was one of those rare instances where it sucks to be right.

At times, I wish I could live in her fantasy-world. My mother thinks that she has beaten the system. She has discovered a prayer that will make your wildest-dreams come true, and if they don’t, you didn’t really want them to come true anyhow.

No amount of reasonable prompts and suggestions will cause her to reflect critically on her little racket with the man upstairs, but I keep prodding, mostly because she makes for a fascinating case study.


Anonymous said...

accept the enlightened selfless truth of sharia and Allah will smile on you.

Sully said...

I don't understand the benefits of having Allah smile on me. Do elaborate.