On irrigation day in Provo, Utah, every kid is up at dawn. They toss on ragged shorts and baggy t-shirts; run barefoot to the highest point of the dry, dusty irrigation ditch that runs the length of Carterville Road. They circle the ditch, dance back and forth, from one leg to the other—wild with anticipation.
They wait for water. And the wait is unbearable.
Then finally…miraculously…it arrives. Water! Clean. Cool. Water!
The gates have opened and water floods the ditch. Ordinary brittle lawns are turned magically into a wet, watery wonderland. From high above, the flooded lawns look like pots of simmering water. Tiny air bubbles pop up from earthworm homes like delicate champagne bubbles. Girls leap through the air with toes pointed like ballerinas…pouncing on the bubbles. Boys wallow in the water like hippopotami.
From dawn till dusk they move with the flow of water, traveling from yard to yard. They splash and kick the water. Dive into it and roll into it. Soak it up like living sponges. By the end of the day they are filthy. Water etches long streaks down dirt covered legs. Mud is caked in ears and dead bugs are stuck in snarled hair. Everyone reeks from the stench of dead earthworms and floating dog shit.
One irrigation day, Mary and her best friend, Sarah decided they were going to fly. It was the summer of their eighth year. Newly baptized, their sins recently washed away in the baptismal font, they faced the summer with sinless souls. Their Sunday School teacher had told them, “If their hearts were pure and if they had faith, their prayers would be answered.”
They prayed they could fly. They wanted to prove to the world that God does exist and that he does, indeed, listen to the prayers of young girls with sparkling, clean souls. They prayed ever so hard. And they had faith. They believed that they were going to fly. They were fair-skinned angels with wispy blonde hair and blue eyes full of trust.
They borrowed bright red gypsy scarves from the trunk in Grandma Kimball’s basement. The scarves were sprinkled with shiny gold stars and the girls believed that they held magical powers. They climbed the branches of the apple tree that overlooked the ditch in front of Grandma Kimball’s house and waited patiently and solemnly for the water. Grandma Kimball’s lawn took on more water than lawn on the block. It was a gentle, rolling lawn that sloped into the ditch. At its highest point, the water came up to your waist—if you were short—which they were.
They waited…and they prayed. “Dear God. Let us fly.” They were reverent and dutiful. Their intentions were noble and their hearts were chaste. The sky above them was as blue as a robin’s egg. They inhaled deeply the hot, scorching desert breeze; their nostrils filled with the scent of wild sage. And they waited…
Finally, the sound of water rumbling down the ancient canals reached their ears. The ditch began to fill…ever so slowly. At first, only a quiet trickle seeped down the dusty ditch. Gradually, as more water escaped through the cracks in wooden gates uphill the ditch began to fill. Until at long last, the final gate was released and, finally, the full strength of the water coursed through the ditch and began to flood Grandma Kimball’s lawn.
As the water rose higher and higher, the girls continued their prayers. “Dear God. Let us fly.” With each inch of rising water, their prayers became more fervent.
Sarah was the first to attempt flight. She stood straight and tall on the lowest branch of the apple tree. Her gypsy scarf waved in the wind, and both arms were stretched outward, the right one balanced against the tree trunk and the left one flapped in wide circular motions. She took one final deep breath, expanded her rib cage, straightened her back, and fortified her will. Then closed her eyes, and pushed her body off the branch.
Flapped her arms just like a bird. Flapped once…then twice.
“I’m flying,” she thought.
Then opened her eyes and saw the wet lawn rapidly approaching. Frantically, she began to beat her arms up and down. Faster and faster. Harder and harder.
She landed belly first. Water spouted up on all sides of her. Sarah jumped up…unscathed. “Did you see me?” she yelled. “I did it! I was flying!”
From Mary’s vantage point if didn’t look much like flight—it looked like a piano dropping out of a third-floor window.
“I was flying. I was really flying!” she laughed. “Until I opened my eyes. If only I would have had enough faith to keep my eyes shut: I would have flown. But now we know the secret. You can do it!”
“Me?” asked Mary. “You want me to do it?”
“Yes!” she answered. “Just keep your eyes closed…and keep your faith. If your heart is pure, you can do it. You can fly!”
Mary looked down at the water-filled lawn, now percolating with a sinister glow. Only a few, short minutes ago, when Sarah jumped, it had looked like a short drop of only two…maybe two-and-a-half feet. But now that it was Mary’s turn, it looked higher than the drop from the high dive at the public pool.
“Come on Mary,” Sarah shouted from below. “You can do it!”
Mary stretched her arms outwards and closed her eyes. Her liver quivered nervously and her stomach fluttered. She took one long, deep breath and just sort of wobbled off the tree branch. She flapped her arms wildly and pinched her eyes shut as tight as she could.
“I’m falling,” she thought. “Falling…falling.”
But still she kept her eyes shut and flapped her arms.
“Please God. Let me fly!” she prayed. “Just this once.”
Mary hit the water with a resounding thud. The air bolted from her lungs and she lay lifeless…face down in the muddy water. Sarah ran towards Mary, her legs kicking up great geysers of water. She grabbed her shoulders, pulled her upright, and shook her back to life. Mary’s neck snapped backwards and stars danced around her head. Her eyeballs rolled back into her sockets and her tongue hung from her mouth like a shriveled worm. When, finally, she captured her breath, she gagged and spit filthy ditch-water.
“Boy, Mary, you fell like a ton of bricks,” Sarah said. “You must not have any faith at all.”
Still wobbly and shaken, Mary pulled herself to her feet. “Oh, yes I do!” she cried, her feeble voice cracking. “I have just as much faith as you do. More! Let’s try again!”
And so, they spent that summer of their eighth year, with sinless souls—jumping out of trees, and barn windows, and off garage roofs; testing their faith.