The table between us, the sitting and waiting, is distance and time enough to stop my thrashing and look around me and come into my right mind, right heart, again. I look across at her and see the precious, fragile thing she is and I take her elfin face in my hands and look her in the eyes, hoping my shamed and loving gaze reaches deep into her soul, and I say the words that still come hard, get stuck in my throat:
I tell her it’s not her at all (her eyes show me she needed to hear this); that’s it me and I hate it and I’m sorry; that she is the dearest, most lovely thing to me (eyes open, soften and brighten as love and delight begin to heal what should never have been), and that I hate the words that come out of my mouth – so small and mean – even as I hear myself saying them; that I know these small, mean words are flowing more often, more freely, these recent days (she nods shyly in assent) and I don’t know why or how to stop but I see it and will try, and I’m sorry, again.
Oh how I hate these words as well: Hate that I have to say them; hate what has come before them and made them necessary. I hate them because they are so small, too, and never seem enough. They can’t roll back the waters of time as I wish they could; they can’t affect a miracle of absolute healing and oblivion; they can’t guarantee that this same devastating flood will not ravage our world again next week, even tomorrow. I hate them because they wound my ego and lay me bare to the reality of my power and my misuse of it, of my desires and their constant disappointment, and of my apparent helplessness at times to be anywhere close to the human, woman, wife, friend, daughter, mother (oh yes, especially mother) that I long to be.
If I hated these words less, maybe I would hate my hard, critical, harsh, unkind, careless, uncontrolled, hurtful words more? Enough to hold them in and hold them back? Enough to stop the torrent and step back from the edge of that crashing, hurtling, shattering precipice?
But though I hate the sorry words, still I love them and need them, as much as a drowning man needs the rock that agonizingly stops his freeflow freefall down the raging river. Though they are hard words, yet they soften – the hard places in me and the hurt places in her. Their very hardness is solid ground for me if I will cling to them, and a foothold for the long climb back up if I can stand on them and move beyond.
Moving beyond means accepting the forgiveness that I see mercifully, graciously leap up in her riverblue eyes from who knows what deep, clear inner spring. It means accepting the truth that I am, today, not mountain-climber, rockface-scaler, summit-reacher; but simply one who ackowledges the need to start again, again, at the foot of the towering cliff, thankful to be on dry ground and be given the chance to try again.
It is a humbling, praiseless task, this trying again; but a timeless one too. Even those who have dedicated their lives in monk’s cell to the pursuit of God and holiness and right-relatedness (I remember this with growing courage) embraced this task as worthy life’s work and spiritual discipline. I would expect more from them (from me) but this is the age-old truth and tale:
A curious outsider asked the burning question, hoping for spiritual enlightenment: “What do you do in your cell all day, Father?” The old man replied: “We fall down and then we get up again.”
So I get up again.
And I open the story book we had forgotten and had had to go back home to get, wasting ‘precious minutes’ and provoking one of my frustrated tirades and her hot tears now dried. She moves around the table to sit next to me and be able to read along and see the pictures, and we are together again – warm limbs and happy imaginations, healing hearts and hungry tummies.
We find the place where we left the story last time, and we begin again.
“Always we begin again.”
(attributed to St Benedict of Nursia)