By John Thomas Tuft

Sherman shoveled the rich, earthy-smelling potting soil and peat into the wheelbarrow before pushing it across the lawn and unloading it into the patch of garden. He picked up a small trowel and got down on his knees to work it into the ground. If the rain held off, he might finish putting in Martha’s marigolds and flox-pink, white and lavender ones-before starting on his tomato plants. “You know,” he continues a thought that must have started in his mind before his mouth knew it, “in this part of the world, we have the luxury of deciding, of choosing each and every thing that we take in. Not everyone has that option. And yet, we act like we don’t have any choice, that we can’t make our own decisions.” He looks up, wipes the sweat out of his eyes. “We all think we have a big, fat body.”

He gets a twinkle in his eye. “Now I ain’t no doctor and I’m not talking about our weight. I don’t care if you weigh 110 pounds or 350, don’t make me no nevermind. You ever hear of the Holy Trinity? Most folks think it’s Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But, nope, it is blood, air, and water. That’s what our big, fat bodies need to keep functioning. Stop those and it’s all over. Period. You’re done.” His eyebrows go up as he taps on his skull with one finger. “Up here,” he says, “up here, we all have a big, fat body.” There is a soft chuckle. “Listen to me preaching at you!” Sherman groans and grunts as he gets up from his knees. “But mess with one of those and what do you get? Pain, I tell you.” He brushes the earth from his overalls. “These old knees have seen better days.” A big sigh, with the twinkle still there. “But what’s a body to do?” He laughs so hard at this it brings on a fit of coughing.

When he can catch his breath, he continues, “All this talk of healthy living, healthy eating, while we have less and less physical labor needed to keep up our supply of the Holy Trinity?  Hell, gyms full of exercise equipment and people walking around with little gizmos on their wrists counting their steps? Why? Trying to convince themselves they don’t got big, fat bodies.” He spits in the dirt. “Want to know what prayer is? I’ll tell you.” He points to the white cumulus overhead. “Nobody up there needs or wants to hear from us. Religion is a bunch of people sitting around, looking at themselves, saying, ‘yeah, we like these big, fat bodies. How do we keep this going?’” Sherman pulls a face. “I don’t mean no disrespect, but who needs that?”

He takes a tray of new plants and kneels again to start planting them. “Praying is helping each other out. Life is physical. So is praying. Prayer is a choice we make with our big, fat bodies. It’s taking our blood, air, and water and beyond using it to keep our own big, fat bodies going, making sure that somebody else can keep theirs going. Plain and simple. If you ask me, and mind you, nobody did, but Jesus’ life was a prayer. He took his big, fat body and turned it into a prayer. Take away the razzmatazz, the flash and dash, the theology, eschatology, even phrenology, and it boils down to a physical experience. Healing, feeding, comforting—it’s all physical. He used his big, fat body to take care.” Sherman looks up, a faraway look in his eyes. “It’s a Presence. Blood, air, and water give us a presence.”

He carefully makes sure that all the colors will mix just right when the flowers bloom. “I don’t understand why some people hate their bodies like they do. I hope Martha gets to see these.” He busies himself a while, getting them just so. “She’s in there,” he indicates the house with a nod of his head. “Has oxygen tubing that reaches all through the house. But not out here.” He swipes at his eyes and tries to cover by swatting at a passing bee. “Feelings are physical too, you know. Don’t pray your thoughts and feelings at me, come and be with me. Get your big, fat body into someone’s presence.” Then he works in silence while his pain accompanies his labors of love.

The sun rises higher in the sky. The trees, now fully clothed following the winter, casually move with the breeze. A robin builds a nest in the crook of the downspout as a pair of mourning doves watch from the wires, as though hoping for pointers. A bell tolls in the distance which makes an old dog look up from his nap, yawn and go back to doing nothing. Sherman gets up, touches me on the arm, before heading into the house to share a meal with Martha. And me? I am on my knees, sifting the earth through my fingers, hoping. Hoping that my big, fat body will become a presence. A prayer…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.