Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tender Mercies

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere of late regarding forgiveness. There have been thoughtful posts and bloviating posts, people struggling to articulate what they think Jesus' position was and is, and people seeking to use scripture as a cudgel with which to draw blood in their opponents.

It is easy to see why forgiveness is so hot right now. Everyone is angry as hell with everyone else. Churches are splitting, loudly, publicly, with leaders and members making grand gestures on the world stage and slamming the door on their way out (even as they seek to hold on to the door in the property disputes). The issues are the same old, same old. Interpretation of scripture, especially when it comes to matters of sexuality and gender. Everyone believes herself to be on the side of the angels. No one is much inclined to extend mercy to anyone else.

About a month ago a Dear Friend pressed Tender Mercies by Rosellen Brown into my hands. It is an original hardcover edition, signed by the author (owing to my friend having lived in the same town years ago), with a somewhat tattered cover. The book, first published in 1978, is about the survival of a marriage following a horrific tragedy--- and when I use the word survival I hope to conjure an image of gasping for breath, the heart pushed to its furthest extremes of strain. That kind of survival.

When the book opens Dan and Laura, along with their two children, are returning to their home in New Hampshire following Laura's lengthy hospitalization. Laura is a quadruplegic. It is Dan's fault: he took the helm of a boat he could not handle while Laura was swimming alongside, and in a display of bravado (thoughtlessly gunning the engine), sliced her nearly to smithereens with the propellers.

Everyone knows Dan did this. Some people-- Laura's family, for example-- will quietly or loudly hate Dan forever for what he has done: there is no hope of mercy or forgiveness. Some people, recognizing their common bond of flawed humanity with Dan (while simultaneously thanking God that "it wasn't me") treat him more charitably.

But of course, it is Laura who has the right, if you will, to choose either to forgive Dan or to bind his sin forever. It is she who is the injured party-- the nearly killed party. The novel is a telescopic view of the hard realities of Laura and Dan's new and unfamiliar life together: both of them sleep-deprived, as Dan has to turn Laura every three hours to prevent bedsores and help her with her catheter every hour or so; Dan struggling to learn how to move Laura's dead weight without injuring her--and failing, repeatedly; Laura's desperate need to keep herself emotionally locked in, lest she be unable to cope with her own rage both at Dan and at her own body.

This is a hard book to read. I asked Dear Friend, "Do I have to?" She nodded gravely. "It's important," she said.

She was right. I learned much from the searing and beautiful experience of reading Tender Mercies.

We all commit unspeakable acts.

We ask forgiveness because our survival depends on it.

We forgive because our survival depends on it.

Image courtesy of isababoum and flickr.


Iris said...

Amen and amen. Thank you, Mags.

We Do It Too said...

um yeah. you read more than anyone i know. and i love you for it.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Mags, I thought I had read the book, but it seems not, as it's not something I would forget.

I agree with your three conclusions from reading the book.

Forgiveness is not only the right thing to do, but it is a self-benefiting act. Holding on to unforgiveness is poisonous. Forgiving is hard, quite hard, but the alternative is much worse.

Serena said...

Amen! Beautiful post. Thanks.

jledmiston said...

Wow. Thanks.

It's a big day for a friend who is having her sins displayed before the world -- in too long a process. Forgiveness has been offered, accepted, asked for again. It will be a long process. Ugh.