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Phil Rice: Ode on a Miracle

Updated: May 28, 2020

Interlude: Ode on a Miracle

A cold January morning. I wake, shower, pour a cup of coffee into a go-cup, and get in the car. The morning rush-hour traffic is backed-up going into Pittsburgh. I inch forward … inch forward … inch forward. My mind struggles to feel the road. Applying and releasing the brakes is an emotional chore; the slightest physical movement is an enormous struggle. The flow of blood through my veins is imperceptible. … My heart is sleeping several miles away in a hospital room, wires and tubes keeping the process of life in motion.

Some acoustic folk songs from Bruce Springsteen are playing through the car’s sound system. I’m not consciously listening, but the familiarity of the music brings a mild comfort. Then, at the end of the playlist, I hear the first licks of a song I don’t recognize. Normally I arrive at my destination before this song comes on, but the lengthy traffic delay has allowed for considerable listening time today. The sound is an acoustic slide guitar or perhaps a Dobro, not an instrument I associate with Springsteen. The raw sound of the guitar and the heaviness of the vocal draw me into the lyrics.

It’s a fairytale so tragic, ain’t no prince to break the spell

I don’t believe in magic, but for you I will …

The lines describe this exact moment in my life with haunting accuracy. One minute Janice and I were euphorically in love and planning our long life together; the next we were dangling over a precipice. Twelve to sixteen months, if all goes well. A fairytale gone bad. And me, her Prince Charming, unable to summon any magical powers to save her.

Sleeping beauty awakes from her dream, with her lover's kiss on her lips

Your kiss's taken from me, now all I have is this

The morning had begun as the previous night had ended—with a cacophony of well-intended words of love. After Janice’s condition was first announced on social media, messages of encouragement had been arriving in overwhelming numbers. But many didn’t know what to do with the news, so they led with their first line of defense: “God grants miracles if you ask.” Some advanced to a more confident position, suggesting that “The key is the number of voices petitioning the Lord; once the number of prayers hits the required limit, God responds.”

But living at the hospital these past weeks, watching the different stories unfold—the recoveries, the deaths—felt more like an organic crapshoot than sacred magic. And for most folks, the experience was a soul-draining limbo, an eternity of time spent helplessly waiting for the recovery … or the death.

Now, as the ridge that separates me from downtown Pittsburgh comes into view, Springsteen’s voice sums up my level of optimism well.

Countin’ on miracle to come through

With my hands on the useless steering wheel, my mind internalizes the lyrics.

Yes, I will believe in miracles … I will believe in every story ever told … if it means Janice will return to us … to me.

In this moment I’m seeking to step beyond the confines of what has become a two-dimensional world. I can sense third dimensions of which I was previously unaware—and they’re right there. But I can’t complete the transference; I’m still sitting in a worn-out Oldsmobile navigating my way to the hospital.

My face is quivering.

I want that miracle. I can hear the words. Miracles happen. God will do it if asked. Yet my faith in that idol is gone. I can’t deny it. Atheism has no appeal to me, but the concept of a gendered being who grants wishes is not something I was able to successfully bring with me from childhood. Still, in this hour, the Christian fundamentalism of the American South where my family tree has been growing for almost three centuries breathes its fear-based judgements on me.

My disbelief is causing God to take her away … This is a punishment … The people who are rising from their beds and leaving the hospital are being rewarded for doing it right.

But as I drain the last sip of coffee from the go-cup, those judgements come up empty. This is about Janice, not me. There is no deity harming her under the pretense of eternal love—of this I am certain. The various assurances given so freely are continuously tearing at a deep wound, but I suddenly find it easy to let those assurances stay on the surface where they dwell.

Springsteen’s song is nearing the 5-minute mark, and it, too, is putting miracles in place.

We've got no fairytale ending, in God's hands our fate's complete

Your heaven's here in my heart, our love's this dust beneath my feet,

If I'm gonna live I'll lift my life, darlin', to you I'll lift my life

As the music fades into silence, I roll down the window and allow the last remaining fumes of religion to be replaced by the awareness of pure love.


Phil Rice is a native Tennessean whose 30+ year career as a writer, editor, book designer and publisher has also included extended residencies in Florida and Pennsylvania. His writing has appeared in a variety of magazines, journals, and books. He and P.A. Merrill founded Canopic Jar: An Arts Journal in 1986, a venture for which he continues to serve as editor. In 2003 Phil started Canopic Publishing, an award-winning independent book publisher. Currently he shares a home with the poet Virginia Smith Rice in Woodstock, Illinois.

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