Tag Archiv: mercy

Meditations on mercy

The Triumph of Mercy, by William Artaud  (1763-1823) compliments of Wikimedia Commons.

The Triumph of Mercy, by William Artaud (1763-1823) compliments of Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Mr. Shakespeare, it pains me to say it, but the quality of mercy is a terrible strain. The fact that it falleth as the gentle rain from heaven is both a blessing and a nightmare. We carry umbrellas to keep from getting wet. To save us from the very thing we need.

It (mercy) is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes. Which would all be well and good except that mercy by definition is not fair. Even equal distribution is not guaranteed.

It may well be mightiest in the mighty and more attractive than a crown. But mercy hardly feels mighty. We sit in park beside the road talking to ourselves. Can we even do this thing called mercy? Do we even want to?

Our responsibility and therefore our possibilities are unclear to us. Our potential for greatness goes unrealized because the cost looks prohibitive.

Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation. 

This entire speech from The Merchant of Venice, belongs as a sacred text. Daily meditations on it would surely be of help to world leaders and small town ignorers alike. Yet Mr. Shakespeare, you failed to address the delicate difficulty of going first. That when one lays down the demands of justice to dispense mercy to another, that there is no way of guaranteeing that those same chickens will come home to roost. We can forgive and not be forgiven. We can proffer the benefit of the doubt and not have it extended back. In some cases, we can go to therapy, take big breaths, cry many tears, find the strength to offer mercy . . . and be misjudged and misunderstood by fellow sojourners in pursuit of justice.

The world breaks down to human beings. And Earthly power does then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice; because when the human beings have a name, justice is complicated. While we do well to live committed to the creation of a more just world, true justice is beyond our ability to accurately judge or fairly implement. We are well advised to believe in justice but to stretch ourselves to reach for mercy. To remember that whatever the labelled group we find simple to judge, it is made up of people with names. Unique individuals with hurts and histories that we know not. And for whom we dare not presume to know justice.

To put fragments of your work, Mr. Shakespeare, within seeing distance of homespun verse is a bit blasphemous. With apologies, I nevertheless close with a homegrown attempt to say something about mercy.

Until Who Wins Is Mercy

Right fights wrong and right fights right

Still no ending here in sight

All are hurting, many wronged

More hurting and the pain prolonged

The night extends there is no peace

only tears without release

And will there never be a way

to end the wrongs of sceptred sway?

Our hearts so weary of the fray

helpless we are to walk away:

What else then is there to say?

Forever all is lost . . .

Until who wins is mercy

Proclamations and promises a la fall

fall maple

Fall feels like a relief this year. A banner proclaiming mercy en route. I’m struck with what a grand tug of war it all is, all the forces of nature battling it out for survival. The mouse wants a nest, some food, some babies, and more babies. Hawks and skunks and snakes and endless other creatures want mice. I want my house reserved for family and invited guests. The mice want in, the squirrels want in, the wasps want in, the flies have already made it in home free.

We want fields for pasture. Mother Nature prefers a wilder look. You can, she says, never have enough new trees. We want rat free shelter for the chickens, the rats disagree. We want clean hay for the cows, sheep, and pony. The groundhogs and mice burrow in, set up shop and check out the facilities. We want vegetables in the garden reserved for us. So do lots of other things. The squirrels got half the beans one afternoon. We never did figure out who had a taste for kale.

There’s a harshness to winter’s mercy. I grant you that. The woodstove will get a workout, pipes will try to freeze, but it’s a mercy nonetheless. The march of the mad forests will cease. The endless reproduction cycles of uninvited farm guests will go dormant. Those trying to nestle in with us for the coming winter will go elsewhere if we can hold out for a little bit longer. (High pitched rodent noisemakers and mouse traps are working as our current bouncers.)

Nature marches on in winter too, but not in living things. Snow and the cold aren’t willfully engaged in a battle of wits with me, they just get whipped up by swirly winds. Things that go wrong in winter are considered acts of God. They aren’t something you have to look up to figure out what you should have done to keep them from happening. This is a very consoling fact.

So proclaimeth the autumn leaves to me this year.

And if anyone’s curious, Buster has been on a time out since Saturday and is finally allowed to roam the pastures freely again. We’ll see if he’s out by lunch. More coming on Buster getting busted . . . I’ll just add that I have fantasies of late about snow up past his knees and him not wanting to go more than fifty feet from the barn.


file000704919536I 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.

Telling Time

file3781234627947I haven’t had much use for watches in recent years. Having nothing on my wrist has been preferable to having something. I balk at the stranglehold that seconds and minutes seem to have on us. Arbitrary designations to which we’ve given the power to judge the value of people.

A little more than a year ago, my paternal grandmother died. Set aside for me was a Bulova watch, a gift given to her by my grandfather. The watch was pretty but simple, not too big, and it didn’t have a clasp to scratch at my wrist. I liked it. It sat in my top drawer declaring the wrong time for a year, while I vacillated between mild interest and pining.

I know what I want for Christmas, I said to my husband finally. Take that watch to town and see if they still make batteries to fit it. Christmas morning, I unwrapped the watch. No battery required, you wind it, the jeweler had explained. My heart leapt the way it does when something that is old moves into my life. The love affair was official now. I began to wear a watch.

My grandmother was a woman who tried very hard. People who loved her have mixed feelings about her and usually a lot of them. Some of what people admired about her was about how hard she tried. To love God, to be a good person. I don’t know if she succeeded in these worthy goals. It isn’t mine to judge. The impact of the hurt and anger that she carried has echoed loudly through the generations. I look at my wrist and consider the painful parts of legacy. Why I wonder, am I wearing her watch?

Am I ignoring the emotional swaths cut into those she loved? Does it matter, I ask myself, how much you love Jesus, if your self-imposed burden to get everyone else to love him too, and the fear that you might fail makes you cruel and unkind?

Grandma’s flaws I do not deny. Despite my generous rending of their mention, few who knew her would approve my noting them at all. But I loved her. I still do.

I am not unlike my grandmother. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I am turning into her (sadly minus the ample bosom). The watch on my wrist is a gift of lessons. My flesh and blood, so in need of the mercy she was unable to offer, wore this watch. I will wear it, and people that I love will fail. They will fail themselves, and they will fail me too. My first reactions one through twenty will be a defense of offense. Choose mercy, my watch says.  Stop keeping tallies. Be the woman who forgets what she can and forgives the rest.