Kevin Kling, author, performer and storyteller, has an Original Works Residency with MPR and will be performing this weekend at the Fitzgerald Theater.
When I was a kid, I prayed to get things. I remember there was a squirrel monkey for sale in the back of Spider-Man comics for $9.99, and I wanted that squirrel monkey so bad. And not sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are a rip-off. 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 shift. 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'd 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. 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 gave the typical reply: "No they won't. I'm an American."
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 barrel-like, depth-charge 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 pray for the first time — for the first time in years I say, "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 for big game hunting. They weigh five, six hundred pounds with six-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 decide right then and there if I see a boar, I'm going to 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 topples over, lying there out cold, lying 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.
Eleven years ago, I was in a motorcycle accident and my prayers changed yet again. I remember walking down the hall from rehab. I'd been through many surgeries. And I was 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.
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 asked, "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, they burned my eyes. And between the sweetness of that apple and the burning of 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 every day. 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 — that or a squirrel monkey.