M. Jane Letty: Narrative Essay: 8 minute read
Forgive me, I haven’t posted for months. Like many writer’s, I’m never satisfied with my work and will sit on something while starting something else until I circle back and find I’ve run out of excuses not to set it free. The following is such a piece, just like the last time. That work was a creative nonfiction I’d written year’s earlier as a college essay about a painfully dark and angry period in my life. Revising it with time and distance, and then setting it free was more than liberating. So much, that I’m contemplating taking it down and letting it fade into the past, where it belongs. While I’ve joked about how someone might interpret it after I die, I know no one will come close to deciphering what I so guardedly expressed—the punishing shame of anger, the regret of allowing it to deny others of light, the suspension of joy but not the pendulum swing of time lost. What did come of it was what any writer hopes—to intellectually move with their readers. Much has happened since then, including reconnecting with and making new friends who’ve brought much of the joy, light, and levity I’d privately ached to feel once again after an extended period of self-isolation, long before it became mandatory. For the reclusive writer, the quarantine hasn’t changed anything for us. Except maybe the motivation to be more productive with one’s writing. It’s a paradox, to be sure.
All seemed to be in that perfect balance of an organized chaos, secure in our routines, hoping for the best and never expecting the worst to happen. Then, a few weeks ago, the whole world got sick. The whole world! Unlike when I was working as a nurse, we’d see a slow rolling of cases, this was different. It spread, quickly. Too quickly, and in real time on news reports and online sources giving graphics and graphic details of a nascent pandemic. My nursing experience in long-term care was mild compared to the infectious disease control protocols I’d learned as a correctional nurse. This was—is—the worst-case scenario many prepare for, but a false sense of security appears to have caught us all off-guard. Of course, I believe that was the plan all along. I, too, was hopeful it would be over in time for Easter. And, if it was just an average run-of-the-mill virus, it would be. With each new report, it’s becoming quite evident there’s more to this virus than meets both the eye and the expectations, which is covered in the alternate blog. COVID-19, coronavirus, Wuhan Flu, whatever you want to call it, it has left in its wake much deserved suspicion, destruction of an economic recovery many thought impossible, public health concerns, loss of many lives, and disruptions of routines and social norms that we’re learning we took for granted.
But, that’s not what this blog is about. After today, we can all go back to trying to figure it out and be hopeful it will abate soon, if only to return to life as we knew it, maybe in a new way, and to prevent further loss of life. Also, to find out how, why, and from where it originated, (China). This draft has been sitting in my Word-bin for a few weeks. In the spirit of today, I’d like to share a very personal conversation I had with God leading up to Easter.
For all the world’s present chaos, frustration with the imposition of restrictive policies, fear and uncertainty, let it not cast any doubt that God so loved us that He gave His only Son so that we might be blessed with an opportunity every day, but especially today, this one day a year to remember His sacrifice, appreciate Jesus’ suffering and celebrate His resurrection. He is Risen! embodies both the most brutal journey and the greatest gift to all who believe. It is the gentlest holiday for a most brutal act. Blessed are those who find the meaning of the purpose of Lazarus stone wasn’t as a barrier, but instead was an entrance in search of Him after an imposed separation.
A few weeks ago, when this virus first hit, a dear friend and I were exchanging messages about the biology of the virus, (we’re both retired nurses—he was Army, I was Correctional). Then, the topic of how forgiveness might play a role in helping to make sense of it all came up. He brought it up without knowing I, too, was wondering the same thing. Not only for the health crisis, but the broken connection opposing views has manifested. We’ve sort of become the other’s virtual spiritual advisor. He’s an active member of his church, while I am not. (At the most broken time of my life, my church and its people contributed to the betrayal I mentioned in my essay, The Gnashing Garden, and again in a paragraph below. He doesn’t mind my darkness or judge me for my resistance to attending church, which I am grateful for and his generosity to share spiritual conversation.) For his part, my friend has had a very challenging year. And, as I’ve come to know him, he’s like most men—they don’t always come right out and say where it hurts. Instead, they sort it out in a mental garage, clanging around, trying to fix it on their own. One of the many things I admire about him is when he’s trying to “fix it” he turns to a carpenter’s Son. Ironically, my friend’s name is Matthew. I’m not prone to tossing out scripture for scripture’s sake. In fact, when other’s do it it makes me suspicious of their motives, feels very judgmental and I’ve found they’re more lost than I am, even on my worst day. *wink* But for my friend, his name is fitting with the scripture. Or, is the scripture fitting for his name?
As our exchange continued, we touched on the topic of what the chaos of COVID-19 was presenting in the world—our own and in the broad sense. Was there a message, perhaps even a cure for the secondary affect of the virus on humanity? I believe we’re at an apex of our own. A spiritual apex. He agreed. We closed on that note. It was far too late, even for us, for such a deep topic. We didn’t pick it up again because he was celebrating the birth of a new grandchild and I was deep-sixing into the story mapping of the biological weapon-like mechanism of COVID-19. But knowing him, and he knows me, we both reflected on it long after. I left him with an article on forgiveness I was reading just before we engaged.
For the record, I’m not a very forgiving person. I used to be and to a fault. I’m not angry or bitter, (any more) nor stingy with forgiveness for the casual offenses. But, like many, I’ve had some betrayals that made me cold and rigid at times. It’s a coping mechanism. Behind it, though, I pray for God’s guidance to soften me, once again, and to not rely more on that coping mechanism so much because it means less reliance on Him. He knows my kintsukuroi heart. ((I’ve said many times, even God reads my stuff!)) So, there’s no hiding anything from Him.
I can’t be sure, but I think I might’ve surprised God before the exchange with Matt that night. I hadn’t asked Him about forgiveness in quite some time, but I was curious as to what might it take to cure this worldwide virus in the spiritual sense; the blind rage, the divisions, the pain and oppressive, crowded loneliness of mistrust born of the realization that among us there are those who do not share, let alone respect the boundaries of our values. More than that, the disrespect of His instruction and willful breaking of His Commandments, seemingly cruel in taunting of our faith as a means of justifying their lacking, brought forth tears of profound sadness and a familiar anger. I don’t generally bother God with trivial matters. Preferring to exhaust resources available on my own so that when I do bother Him, I’m prepared to show my work. For my journey, I’ve learned there are people who need His attention more than me. I know my way home to Him, having run away once before. Okay, maybe more than once. Of great concern to me, the celebrating of abortions; ghoulish, blanket acceptance of infanticide, especially the impatience of some even on Good Friday; striking out at one another with pejoratives simply for a difference of opinion or beliefs, of which I am also guilty; the mocking of God and the diminishing of the importance of religion in our lives was particularly distressing—and angering. And, while I don’t agree with those who don’t share my values, I was fair when considering they don’t see the issues through the same lens. I try to, at the very least, to recognize their reasons for their position in a way that doesn’t close off the possibility of a greater understanding of what leads some to support abortion, infanticide, or rejection of God. To be candid, my purpose isn’t entirely altruistic. Part of it to provide distance for my own sake, the other is to allow for an opening so to be accessible should they embark upon a sometimes lonely journey on their way to Him. So, with that in mind, I asked “What will it take to heal…the world?”
He responded without hesitation or requiring the usual amount of effort He has come to expect of me.
And, true to my nature, I bristled. He knows I’m stubborn…and still a little angry deep down inside. After a betrayal so crushing twenty years ago, and having spent much of those years in a constant state of simmering rage at the audacity and source of that betrayal, (my own mother) I lost some of myself in that shattering. In order to make the journey back so to be a loving wife to a good man, mother to a wonderful son, and a better friend to those whose friendship I cherish, some of the way I once was—naïve and trusting—had to be hardened. To be forgiving is to be soft. To be soft, again, is to be vulnerable and that’s where I bristled. It’s been a long journey, but I still have landings I can’t stick no matter how fast I run up to them, and I lock up just before the leap. He knows I’ll either learn to trust again to clear them…or not. But, so long as I still love with a pure heart, give generously and take humbly, and see Him and His many blessings through clear eyes, He doesn’t force me to fly with a clipped wing just to please Him. If I choose to crawl, walk, or skip to my lou my darlin’ the entire way, even if I could just as easily fly, that’s the choice I’ve made with the options He provides. And, He loves me…anyway. Forgives me, always.
But He also knows if I’m asking about forgiveness, then I must be open to His wisdom…even if just a little. And, if I’m asking about healing the whole world, then I need His help. So, I explored the concept of forgiveness with Him. I was reminded of the time I hurt someone I love very much answered my question, “How can you ever forgive me?” He said, “Who am I not to forgive?”
The long-short of it, so not to bore anyone with my ramblings of my personal Winter, fear of being vulnerable, or my unorthodox musings with God, I asked Him if forgiveness meant I had to embrace those whom I’ve found impossible to tolerate ideologically, the ones who are radical or casual have become so frustrating for me on many levels. (A mutual sentiment made painfully obvious through some hurtful, undeserving names like Nazi or accusations of being racist. Of course, it doesn’t help that in response, baby killer or Communist is no better. Proving two wrongs can never make a right.) But spiritually, the radical ones whose views and actions I find dangerous and the casual ones, cowardly for not drawing a distinction between the absurdity of the radical and the way they used to be—civilly opposite. How can we hope to begin to forgive one another? It’s like pushing a string.
I asked Him, once again, because He left me to ponder the gravity of what I really wanted to know—what was His cure for the world. It’s not every day someone asks God how to save the world—His world. But, the world has the chance every day to save ourselves from ourselves.
“Must forgiveness mean embracing them?”
Forgiveness can be given or received without request or permission, without a word, even by only a gesture from within to be sent outward to find reception, anonymously. Forgiveness for our differences does not mean we agree. It merely means an end to the violent force against one to another to surrender their position. It can be given, freely, without clubbing or demanding the other believe what you believe and it’s not an acceptance of opposing values. It just means forgiving the other for falling short of expectations and no longer demanding accountability for their actions, but instead forgiving them for doing that which they know not what they do. It means we stop crucifying one another on a cross that neither of us is worthy to be nailed to, nor do we have the authority to nail. That while we may not break bread together, we must not offer vinegar to quench their thirst—or our own.
Did you know, according to scripture, the cross Jesus was crucified on was approximately 7 to 9 feet tall? The entire cross, which he was forced to carry after having been scourged, beaten, and cruelly mocked, is said to have weighed in excess of 300 pounds. He carried the weight not only of the cross, he bore the burden of the weight of the world and all of our sins—along a path known as the “way of suffering”, and for approximately 650 yards. But, what I really want to call attention to is the patibulum, (cross bar) that Jesus’ arms were outstretched and nailed to was likely 5 to 6 feet long. The same distance we are required to be apart from one another, today, but especially on Easter Sunday. Also, how ironic the virus’ name is corona. It means crown, much like the one of thorns worn by Jesus in his darkest hour.
That’s what the sacrifice was made for in the first place—to save us this burden, to bridge our spiritual distance, to forgive us for doing that which we do not know. Each of us, no matter how spiritually full or vacant, we will never know the limitlessness of such forgiveness—we’re not supposed to know the limit.
An apex is a limit…
Thank you for reading. No matter your view, your feedback is welcome and encouraged. For those whose Passover has concluded or those celebrating Easter, God bless. Be well. ~MJL