let your prayers be heard


Artist: Mary Alayne Thomas

I prayed silently before a test with my eyes closed in a 7th-grade math class. My teacher asked me what I was doing and I told her.

"Stop it," she said, annoyed. Her hair so shiny, her math skills impeccable.


But numbers are a language I don't understand. They float through my brain and turn upside down and so I need to call on the parts of myself that have not been born yet. The mind that can grab numbers from the well of this impossible test and turn them right side up. Your chalkboard is covering my days with misery.

I didn't say that part out loud. She had already moved on from my desk anyway. Instead, I picked up my pencil and began to fill in small circles one at a time. The smell of lead, a comfort. The circles I could at least fill in with grace and beauty. There is always something to be thankful for.

I failed that test and my battle with math pursued. Everywhere I turned I had to pass something. I was slow with it then and I still am. All this hoop-jumping. All this test-taking. But the world did not care and I did not give up and eventually, I did learn the language of numbers. I spent hours alone at a desk practicing, rehearsing, sighing. None of this would come naturally to me. Instead, it came with failure and frustration, and often embarrassment. Over and over.

I'll never learn this. How will I learn this?

But I couldn't get to college without math and I wanted to go to college. I ran my finger down the page of all the math classes I would have to pass in order to study literature.

This puzzle will not stop me.

After a long time, huffing and puffing my way through, feeling exasperated and defeated and sometimes even quite good I must admit, algebra showed up with cool beauty, quietly, after years of practice.

Hey, Math said. The equations are like haikus. Follow the rhythm. Stay with the beat. There is symmetry here. There is beauty here. Breathe. Never mind the failure. Start again. Write the numbers earnestly. Loop the two. Build bridges with four. The 5 is a cat. Number one is a queen. Zero is the shape of the moon. Let them teach you. It's ok to write them a thousand times. That's what love is. Accept the difficulty. Learn the language. Let it shape you. Grow sharp. No one can take this dedication from you. Let it show you what you are made of.

Let your prayers be heard.