I guess I’m writing about mercy because I don’t have very much of it. I admire it in others and I’ve got most of Portia’s mercy speech from the Merchant of Venice committed to memory. Does that count for something?
Ten days ago I had a thought. The whole Lent giving up criticism thing has been a challenge. Not the least of which has been how to sensibly apply it to say, I don’t know, the bold, over energetic, extremely forgetful, thirteen year old I live with. While it might not be my job to criticize him exactly, it is clearly my job to point him in the right direction, which sometimes sounds the same. My hands are tied. In all directions I confirm, it is hopeless. But then, as I said, I had a thought.
What would happen, I wondered, if for one week, I pretended that he was doing the best he could. Not that this is true, (obviously no one could be so systematically challenging and actually be trying) yet for the sake of discussion, could I, for a limited time only, pretend it was true and act accordingly. Direction pointing still required, even criticism. Consequences, regular life, the only difference would be inside of me, approaching each interaction as if I believed that he was currently doing the best he could.
I tried it because I don’t do fad diets and humans need to try things. Also because you can do almost anything for a week. For ten days, I was still trying it. I liked what was happening. Before my eyes, Boy one was kinder, gentler, with evidence of trying that I could see without pretending. He reminded me of some of my favourite off the walls, silly, and good hearted students, and not nearly as much like a growing proof of my failure to raise civil persons.
Oh, and I liked me better too.
Everything was going great until it was not. Then I could tell that he was trying alright – trying to be entitled, ungrateful, condescending, and surly. Boy two used up all my transition/changing schedules sympathy. The girls used up all my everybody just needs spring to come soon empathy. For Boy one, I was just mad. He got ten days of pretending didn’t he?
Mercy? said quiet voice.
Mercy? I spat. He doesn’t deserve it.
Yeah, said quiet voice. That’s um, kind of the point of the word.
Sunday, last, I knew that deserving wasn’t a requirement for receiving. That Sunday I was so happy with mercy, I dared to hope it meant me too. By Wednesday it was too late. For everybody.
Quiet from quiet voice.
Well? I demand.
You were more right on Sunday.
So mercy? That’s it?
It’s for everybody.
I made a few more meagre stabs at opposition but quiet voice was into humming by then. Amazing Grace, or something like that.