It's Sunday morning and I just finished reading my favorite short prose for the week--the "Lives" column in the New York Times Magazine. I've submitted several pieces for this spot, but haven't gotten any bites yet. I think this back page venue offers some of the best short essays around, and this morning's feature did not disappoint. In fact, it moved me on several levels.
Cheryl Wagner, author of the memoir, Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around, shared a personal experience I can relate to, even though I haven't lived through Katrina and the oil well leak as a resident of New Orleans. Her story, "Stress Cap: Responding to Crude Insult and Seeping Oil in New Orleans", spoke to my ongoing personal battle with holding grudges and reacting to personal affronts and disappointments. It all started when a man made a sleazy remark to Wagner as she was getting into her car in a parking lot, and she reacted by shooting the bird at him. She immediately felt remorse, remembering her New Year's resolution to not be so reactive. Busted.
I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, but I've been struggling with anger and hurt feelings issues for years. Every time I think I'm getting on top of it, something else happens to open the wound. I love the way Wagner describes this process in her own life:
"When someone or something does you wrong, everyone has his own opinion about whether the proper response is a blues lament or a country butt-kick song."
This reminded me of how a couple of days by the ocean and a soft Southern rock song helped me get over some pain a couple of years ago. But sometimes it takes more than externals to get me out of a hole like this. As Wagner's mother told her, "You should go back to Mass." And yes, I'm getting back to Liturgy (Orthodox Christian "mass") little by little. And I'm trying to learn to forgive. Some of Wagner's friends offered help that I'm paying attention to today:
"They emailed a spiritual exercise, a loving-kindness meditation for all standoffs, past, present and future--for pollution gushers, traitors and all the earth's gaping wounds. A prayer they claim will keep us all afloat and pollution free: May the parking-lot bullies, may the back-stabbers, may the B.P.'s, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering, may they be safe. May they not get what they deserve."
This really isn't anything new... but a new twist on what I've heard for years as Christian. That we should pray for our "enemies" and those who hurt us. But somehow this prayer sounded almost childlike in its purity and forgiveness and I thought, as I read it over and over this morning, "unless you become as a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." You know how quickly little children forgive you?
So, I'm praying this prayer as I get ready to go to church this morning. And, like Wagner says, "It was creamy on my tongue, like the crème brûlée of well-wishing." Yeh. That's what forgiveness feels like, isn't it? Yummy. I want some more of that.