Edwidge Danticat: A Prayer Before Dying
From PEN World Voices's Book of Prayer and Meditation
The following was written for last night’s PEN World Voices evening of prayer and meditation, and will be included in the chapbook A Book of Prayer and Meditation.
I grew up in houses where we prayed every morning and every night. First with my minister uncle in Haiti. Then with my parents and brothers in Brooklyn. Yet it was very hard for me to write a prayer. I think this is in part because I was taught that our prayers are meant to be private.
The prayers the people in my life prayed usually highlighted our most urgent desires. There were times when we prayed for food. Times when we prayed for loved ones to be released from jail. Times later on when we would pray for our family members, including our parents, not to die.
Still, our most profound prayers are prayers of gratitude. Or so my mother used to say. Simply saying mèsi or thank you is in itself a prayer. Saying souple, s’il vous plait, please, can also be a kind of prayer.
When my mother was dying of cancer, she and I prayed together a lot. The Bible says to “pray without ceasing,” she kept reminding me.
I remember the exact moment when she stopped praying to be healed and started praying for peace, la pè, her shorthand for a peaceful transition. We called those final prayers, our surrender prayers.
I used to tell myself that writing is a kind of prayer, that silence can be prayer, that even children are prayers, living and growing prayers. That love is the most powerful prayer of all.
My prayer is inspired by my mother. It is the prayer I imagined her saying in her head during her final moments on this earth, during those final minutes when she couldn’t speak anymore but could still hear a little bit, as she was drifting away.
Please let this be my final prayer, my very final prayer. Let there be no more need for me to ask anything else of you and of this sometimes shaken and sometimes troubled but beautiful earth.
Please let this be the last time I think of you, before we see each other face-to-face, light-to-light, or wind-to-wind, or sky-to-sky, or however we will be.
I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see what I will be: what colors, what shade, what light pillar, what rainbow, what moonbow, what sunbow, what glory, or what new sky.
Please let me now accept all of this. As I have already accepted this world and all that it is and has been.
And please let the world go on. Let the sun still rise and set. Let the rain still fall, quiet and soft at times, and hard at other times. Let the oceans be still or roar, as they always have. Please let the world go on as it always has, so that my children will know that only my spark has dimmed and not the entire world.
Please let my children remember me. Both the good and bad of me. Let them not forget one thing about me that could help them be better women and men.
Please let the pain racking my body stop. Let it stop right now.
Please let my lungs stop aching. Please let my breath stop sounding like hammers in my ear.
Please don’t let all these drugs make me say anything hateful at this final hour.
Please make my daughter stop crying.
Please let it be a sunny day when they bury me.
Please let my children find the five hundred dollars I left in the tin can in the freezer—I really should have told them about that when I still could. Please don’t let them throw out my good blender. All it needs is a new blade.
Ok, maybe you can make my children forget all the times I spanked them. There might not be much to be gained from that.
Please let them say nice things about me at my funeral. Things I’ve never heard them say before, things I would never imagine them even thinking about me. Things that have nothing to do with being spanked.
But please don’t let them go on talking for too long at the service. Let them stop talking when it’s time.
And please let them know that I’ve always been praying for them just like this, silently, in my head. And that if it’s at all possible, I will never stop praying for them, like this, silently, from somewhere else.
Please remind them that none of us have all the time we think we have in this troubled but still beautiful world.
Please let them not bury me in an ugly dress.
Please guide them to my good wig. (I really should have told my daughter where it was.)
Please let them not be talked out of a closed coffin. I now only want YOU to see my face.
And please, please, let my children survive this. Let them survive this. For I will not just be their manman now. I will be their light pillar, their rainbow, their moonbow, their sunbow, their glory, their new sky.
Listen: Edwidge Danticat talks to Paul Holdengräber on writing books for young people and writing about death.