Prayer: Once a Last Resort, Now a Habit
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Storyteller Kevin Kling sometimes finds himself in trouble. And sometimes when he's in trouble, he says a prayer for help. After a life-changing motorcycle accident six years ago, Kevin's prayers changed.
KEVIN KLING: When I was a kid, I prayed to get things. I remember there was a squirrel monkey for sale in the back of Spiderman comics for 9.99, and I wanted that squirrel monkey so bad. And not sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are a rip-off. Squirrel monkey.
Earlier, I'd bribed my brother to ask my dad how much he loved me. Do you love Kevin a lot? Nine ninety-nine? You love him 9.99? He's not getting that squirrel monkey. So I prayed to God to ask Jesus to tell Santa about that squirrel monkey, hoping with all my heart that one of the three would take my case.
Later in life, my prayers shifted. I'm on the Mediterranean Sea, on a boat between Athens, Greece and the island of Eos, hanging on to a ladder for dear life. I stowed away. I stowed away because while on Eos, I discovered I only had $25 and I still wanted to see Italy and Ireland. So I bought a fake ticket for a dollar and got on board.
Once out to sea, I sat down next to a French guy, and I told him, hey, man, I stowed away. He said man, you are in big trouble. They haven't even collected the tickets yet. He said, when they find you, they are going to take you below. He said, this happened to a friend of mine. They beat him with a bar of soap and a sock because it didn't show the bruises.
I said the typical reply: no they won't. I'm an American.
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KLING: He said, they're going to love you. And sure enough, an hour later, ticket takers came, and I knew I was busted. So I hid behind these barrell- looking depth charged things. But a steward saw my shoes and blew a whistle. It was cat and mouse around the ship. Then I see the ladder hanging over the side. I climb down the sides and I'm hanging on over the water looking for any land I can swim to, and I prayed for the first time - for the first time in years I said God, please get me out of this. Get me out of this and I'll never do anything this stupid again as long as I live.
And I'm Wild Russian boar hunting in Texas. Wild Russian boar were introduced to Texas to provide big game hunting. They weigh 500, 600 pounds with 6-inch tusks, and they eat meat in the middle of the night, which is you. So when they come to eat you in the night, you shoot them.
I'm what's called the light man. I hold a flashlight and search for a boar. I asked the guy Mario, Mario, aren't they going to come for the guy with the light? He says, yeah. So I decided right then and there if I see a boar, I'm going the shine the light on Mario. Hoo - there's a big one.
Mario decides it's a good time to drink really a lot right out of the bottle. And then he decides to play this game called scare the Yankee. So he takes out his Bowie knife and starts sliding it up my leg showing me how it's going to feel when a boar gores me. All of a sudden, we look up and there's a cow standing there, a cow. Mario says, my property - my cow. He takes out his six shooter and blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam.
The cow looks at Mario, turns and walks away. Oh, great. I'm the light man. Mario finishes the bottle and topples over, laying there out cold, laying on his gun. I'm standing there in the dark, waiting for a boar, and I pray to God, God, please get me out of this. Get me out of this and I'll never do anything stupid again as long as I live. And I'm in Mardi Gras. All right, you get the idea.
Five years ago, I'm in a motorcycle accident, and my prayers changed yet again. I remember walking down the hall from rehab. I've been through many surgeries. And I'm in the hospital, a little over six weeks. And each day, I would ride the elevator to the ground floor and try and take a walk. I could go maybe half a block, but it felt really good to be in the sun. 9/11 had happened the week before. And as our country was entering trauma, I was living one. I already knew it that you can't cure trauma. But hopefully, in time, you can heal from it. But it does take time.
I was on the elevator when I saw this guy who'd been in the trauma ward when I was. I couldn't believe he was there and walking. When he arrived, he was barely alive - internal injuries, all four limbs in traction. And now, there he was, making his way into the sunshine. I wondered how he found the strength, so I said, man, how did you do it? You were even worse than I was. And he said, because they don't let you smoke in a hospital. And true to his word, when we got outside, he pounded a heater.
After my walk, my girlfriend Mary and I went into the gift shop, and she asked if I wanted an apple. She said they looked really good. Now, I hadn't tasted food in over a month, and I had no taste. I lost a lot of weight because food had no appeal. So I said no, but she persisted. Come on. Try it. So finally, I said all right. And I took a bite. And for some reason, that was the day flavor returned, and that powerful sweetness rushed from that apple. Oh, it was incredible.
I started to cry, cry for the first time in years. The tears flowed and as the anesthesia and antibiotics flushed through my tears, it burned my eyes. And between the sweetness of that apple and the burning for my tears, it felt so good to be alive. I blurted out, thank you, thank you, thank you,, thank you for this life. And that's when my prayers shifted, again, to giving thanks. And I don't know whether good things happen more because I was saying thank you, or I was just noticing them more.
But blessings started to emerge from the curses. For one thing, I get to see people at their best everyday. Sometimes, I need help. And people are incredible, literally right there to lend a hand. And nobody looks better than when they're helping someone. As we count our blessings, I take a moment to pray to God to ask Jesus, to tell Santa, if there's one thing I want, it's to say thank you, thank you, thank you - or a squirrel monkey.
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SIEGEL: Kevin Kling tells stories and gives thanks from his home in Minnesota.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.