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A few months later I was sitting on the opposite side of the continent, far out on the long rocky breakwater in Provincetown Harbor, Massachusetts, under a similarly pink-slashed sunset, talking to the sea and the sky. Some people would call this praying, and I might one day, too, so I began, as I believe all prayers should, with gratitude. Thank you for the sunset, thank you for my friends, thank you for the pain that is gone from my back. Thank you, that is, both for the wake-up call of pain, and for its subsequent relief.

I watched the tide rush out under the giant slabs of granite beneath me.

"Okay," I said, out loud this time, which felt both ridiculous and better. "I think I am finally ready for you to send me a big, deep, generous love." I'll admit I didn't know who I was praying to. Something that might be called Ocean and might be called God, and that manifested itself to me occasionally as cupped hands.

"But if you don't think I am ready for big love," I continued, "then maybe just a little romance to keep the conversation going." A great blue heron landed in the reeds nearby. "And if I'm not even ready for that, maybe just a sign that I'm on the right path."

Satisfied with my prayer, I trained my eyes on the heron. A dapper little man was approaching on the jetty, wearing short shorts in psychedelic colors and a yellow shirt, walking a Westie, who was wearing a sweater, even though the day was quite warm. He said, "Lovely place to sit and think, isn't it?"

"Yes," I said, "it surely is."

He never broke stride, but grinned as he passed. "You are a good person," he said. "It's all going to be okay."

I watched him recede along the horizon, the tops of the big rocks turning green and gold and purple in the encroaching twilight. "Thanks," I told the thing that is part God and part Ocean. "That was just what I had in mind."

It was exactly two weeks later when I found myself in Taos, New Mexico, talking with a poet named Greg Glazner, someone I had not known until chance put us on a shared bill at a night full of literary readings. We were in his hotel room—not as salacious as it sounds—but the conversation was having that delicious accelerated quality that can happen sometimes with strangers, and before long I was telling him about Denise, and the alfalfa fields, and the cupped hands.

"These hands?" he said, holding his hands just like the ones in my mind's eye, with a look of such intensity on his face it scared me.

"Well, you know," I said, backpedaling, "cupped hands as metaphor." What had made me want to share my fledgling spiritual realizations with a complete stranger anyway? "Some kind of safety or support."

"Oh," he said, "I know those hands," and he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a greeting card with a photo of hands on the front, fleshy, weathered, cupped, and catching a stream of cold, clear water. "Look," he said, and held the card out to me. "And look," he said, pointing to the yard-sale-quality print over the standard-issue hotel bed. There were the soft lines of a woman's face, below it only the suggestion of a body, and below it, in sharper detail than anything else, her open, waiting hands.

The rest, as they say, is history. Greg and I have been together going on two years now, and though no relationship is made without effort, this one is proving to be that big love I prayed for on the Provincetown rocks. I don't know why and I don't know why now, but I do know I would have to be some kind of arrogant to squint too hard at my good fortune this time. Denise says it is simple: I had to learn how to ask for help before I could receive it. Now when life gets hard and I start to lose faith, I put myself back in that alfalfa field, where a smudged sky opened up and invited me inside it, momentarily illuminating my connection to everything larger than me.

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