An Ode / Litany for a winter evening.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness.

I started with myself, but that proved tricky. I skidded from my reflection in the dusty mirror to memories as long ago and far away as any.

I squatted in a driveway staring at a heart-shaped rock embedded in the concrete. My sister said, “I call that ‘Pretty Rock’ and I claim it.” She gestured to a dull, misshapen splinter on the cracked edge of the gutter. “You can have that one.” We sprawled on the ground, contemplating our treasures, the pretty rock and its ugly sister. A dull ache rose in my breast. I did not understand my longing.

In the hallway late at night, my father swayed from side to side. A stink rose from his body. My mother huddled at the kitchen sink. Someone sobbed at the rear of the house, a jagged wretched noise. My father spoke my name.  I covered my ears with my small hands.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness. While turkeys rest on sideboards all across America, I sit and listen to the owl’s intermittent call. The wind has calmed. Gentle rain barely grazes the ripples of my metal roof and drips on the sodden masses of leaves piled beyond my door.

Earlier this week, a memory rose to stifle a carefree moment between chores. This wicked vision does not wear a label but I know it: An endless annoyance, caused by someone else’s choice, with which I will eternally struggle. Some would call it just desserts. Truth hurts. I swallowed my bitter pill and stared at my reflection in the window, at sorrow lingering behind the grey-blue tint of my Irish eyes. I wondered whose burden would be eased if I bear mine with silent nobility. I might as well; it won’t be leaving soon.

I don’t know what happened to my workbook on nonviolent communication. I seem to recall a paragraph or two about forgiveness. I don’t think Dr. Rosenberg required that we forgive, nor that we apologize. His theories hung together with deft precision when he explained them but I’ve lost the sense of them.  I had better watch the tapes again.

A yellow-brick road stretches six decades behind me. Each square holds someone disappointed by my choices. I rejected a request made of me. I tendered one which someone resented having to honor. Their faces linger on faded Polaroids which line the squalid room where my spirit huddles.  I pry the thumbtacks from the torn corners and hold each one to the feeble light. I study the rigid lines of their mouths.

I should burn the lot, but a hint of affection lurks in those frozen eyes. I yearn for just a drop.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness, a litany for the season, a ballad for those who march toward the something better which they hold the universe to providing. I stand at the checkpoint with cold bottles of water and fresh towels for their fevered brows. I watch them stagger past. I cheer them forward.

I name the runners: You – I shall call you, “Enough.” Over there, your name will be, “Accepted”. Coming behind these two, “Chosen” and “Wanted”.  I christen them all. I open my velvet bag of advanced vocabulary words and spill the best of them: Golden. Glory. Sensation. Above. Beyond. Complete. They slap my palm as they scurry by. They grin; they laugh; they raise their fists towards the flood of light and fall into the finish line.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness, to deep breaths, and second chances, and the liquid gold dripped into the shards of porcelain to heal the shattered goblet. I wonder, over and over and over and over, if the lashes across my narrow back will ever be enough to even the score.  What price must I pay for what I’ve done, or failed to do?

On a long scroll of parchment, I pen the name of each person who raised the whip and brought it crashing on my tender flesh.  At the bottom, I scribble a prayer. I light the match. I watch the smoke rise to the heavens. The ashes fall away.   I forgive you.

And the owl hoots. And the wind blows. And the rain seeps into the ground, reaching for the tender roots which lie beneath the winter grunge.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.



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