Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
At lunch, your friend tells you he’s having trouble with his lover, and you say, “I’m sorry,” which doesn’t seem to help much, because he’s really swimming in it now, so drenched with tears you half expect the waiter to stop by and sponge him off. So you swipe a few napkins from their little tin house, lean across the table, and say, “I’m really, really sorry,” like you’re asking for his forgiveness. Which, after all, maybe you are, because the scroll of your own sins, when it comes to love, could stretch from here to the parking lot and back, and part of you wants to unroll it right now and start listing them off, the way they do at hangings. But seeing your friend wrecked like this makes the other part of you feel lousy and really wish for his forgiveness, or if not his, then the waiter’s. At this point, anyone’s would do. Because that’s the way the world should work, you think: we should forgive each other all the time, handshakes cut loose in favor of gestures of forgiveness, a palm placed upon the forehead of everyone you meet, their palm on your forehead, leaning there against each other, a few small words of absolution, little Post-it notes — Don’t be so hard on yourself — stuck to your computer at work, even just a quick sign of the cross from your boss on his way to a coffee break, so that you can forgive him when he comes back, for surely he’ll have sinned in those few minutes, and so will you, one of those small malices: slamming your desk drawer because the work never stops, a curse just beneath your breath, the misdemeanors we all commit, because eventually even the good must sin, if for no other reason than to experience the joy forgiveness brings. And why not give that joy to each other all the time? Though maybe we already do this, because what else would you call, except gestures of forgiveness, a hand extending toward a mislaid hair, the man nodding you through the tollbooth when you forget your change? Or something subtler than that: the quick glance in the hallway that says, “Here we both are, and that’s OK,” the two minds processing and judging, judging and releasing, both knowing so much about the shortcomings of the other, yet arranging an oblivious face, like the waiter who ignores the napkins, crumpled with tears, your friend has left piled on his plate.
Steven Philip Gehrke
A week ago, when Vice-President-Elect-in-limbo Dick Cheney had a heart attack, I actually said to my husband, “Well, let’s hope the pressure of being vice-president will give him another.” I could feel the clunk after I said it, but I didn’t try to take back that evil little thought. I just let it go. After all, Bush and Cheney would do bad things to good people and good things for bad people, right?
This afternoon, I was on the last paragraph of Anne Lamott’s “Forgiveness” [November 2000] when a radio newscaster reported that Cheney’s heart attack had been a mild one and his recovery quite rapid. I found myself whispering, “Good. I’m glad.”
Lamott’s words had quietly brought my forgiving self to the surface.