That religious impulse


4am knock on the door. 

I think I’m dreaming, then think it’s morning and someone’s trying to sell us something, then hear the cops outside. I get up and open the door. 

He wants to know if we heard anything. There was an incident a little while ago. We both fell asleep early, didn’t hear anything, what’s going on? 

A woman was hit by a car and left for dead. I heard someone speeding down our street hours ago, but it happens all the time, we live across the street from a park and I always think, someday, something’s going to happen. 

I can’t sleep, I think of that poor woman, lying there in the street, someone finding her, someone else getting the bad news. 

When I was little, I was surrounded by very religious people. I grew up in Quebec, where catholic tradition runs deep, but my home was firmly agnostic. We had a babysitter who was une pratiquante, went to church, had religious images in her house, all of that. One day, she told me that if I didn’t start praying to baby Jesus, he was going to leave me to rot in the ground when I died, while everyone else got to go up to heaven.

I remember her squeezing my hand when an ambulance would go past, and crossing herself. I remember doing the same: it seemed appropriate, that’s just what you did when someone else was hurting.

It’s something to do, in those moments when you can’t do anything. It’s the active form of sending good thoughts. 


I’ve been sick for a few months, but I’m on the mend now. One of my colleagues noticed that I hadn’t been well, and he took me aside a few weeks ago to ask how I was.

“I’m fine, it’s okay, I’ll be better soon”

“Okay, but listen, I just want you to know: I’m praying for you.”

And you know? I really appreciated that. I don’t believe in prayer, but I do believe in telling people you wish them well. 

All day, today, the street was busy. First it was the crime scene investigation, marking the ground, taking photos, cops walking around talking on cell phones. Then it was the clean-up crew: they brought in a fire truck and hosed down the street and the cars nearest the scene. I vaguely wished they’d hose down our car, too, it’s pretty dusty, and immediately felt guilty for the thought. 

Then the media showed up: three separate camera crews knocked on my door, three times I said I hadn’t seen anything. Each crew brought a bit of news: she’s still alive, but it’s not looking good, the guy turned himself in, she was on the ground for a long time before someone saw her. 

All day I wished there was something else I could do instead of looking out on the street and hoping she would be okay. I wished I could still squeeze my babysitter’s hand and cross myself, or pray to someone who would listen.