On Forgiving

All I could see at first was the skirt’s long hem and the sensible shoes, which had arrived to pause at the edge of the trail that runs behind our house. Then I saw almost the entire boy, as he was small enough to appear (sneakers and socks, shorts and blue t-shirt) under the leaves of the maple tree.

He had stopped beside this woman, whose gray head now appeared between the leaves. She was bending to show him something at the trail’s edge. What?

From the second-floor window, I had to bend down to see them better: the gray head and the brown one, the smallness of the boy. They crossed the trail to peer at the creek, and I watched how she didn’t hold his hand, how she gave him space to follow her, if he would. I watched the way his walk came from his knees’ unlocking for every step. The walk of a very young boy.

The morning was gray; the light on the path was flat. What were they seeing? What did they say? Our cat went out through the gate to meet them, the gray one who routinely greets people on that trail. Cat and boy disappeared behind the broad trunk of a pine tree, but I watched the woman step back and watch them, and then I saw she was taking their picture.

That was all. Something (someone) needed (always) me, and so I moved away from that tableau: woman, boy, cat, and all that the spaces between them said and didn’t say.

I don’t know what I did next. Maybe I emptied the dishwasher. But I returned to horror over the blogger murdered in Bangladesh on Tuesday, to loss upon loss of earthquake victims in Nepal, to demands in Raleigh for an increase in the minimum wage, to new understanding of poverty in my own town: 28% of our children.

But not the small boy behind my house.

And I returned to the thoughts of yesterday, to the thoughts of a year ago or more, to wounds I thought were closed but yesterday weren’t. And maybe not today, either.

For a long time, forgiving isn’t a thing said-and-done, a sealed deal.

And you can’t close up the gaping wounds of an earthquake, not straight away. The man in Bangladesh is gone forever.

But to fail to forgive is a crime in its own right, the theft of a thing someone paid for. The keeping for oneself (and for why?) what belongs in those sweet, scarred hands.

To fail to forgive is (can I say this?) a kind of killing: the worth of the person reduced to the sum of his failing. To fail to forgive is like turning a blind eye to poverty, to loss in Nepal. I don’t think I’m taking too big or wrong a leap here to say that the former (always) is choosing me, is choosing death.

All the rest is Christ.

And He gives me–gives us–space: to walk with Him, or not. To take His hand, or not.

A short while later, I saw them again, old woman and small boy, walking side by side where they weren’t obscured by maple. She did not hold his hand, but they walked together, and when this time he stopped to look at something, she stopped, too.

I wished I could hear his small voice, his small mouth framing words. I wished I could hear what she said to him, but their words were only for each other. And that is as it should be.

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