Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cripples, all of us?

April 29, 2012

Dear friends,

The grocery store story continues to cause some cognitive echoes from readers. (Blog, March 25; blog April 1.)

Several of you have reported yourselves saying “I’m sorry,” and then, after a brief moment, found yourself thinking, “This isn’t a case for forgiveness. But what do I need to ask for?”

The frail woman who initiated the tuna fish-breakfast food disaster with her shopping cart felt intuitively that she needed to ask for something, and so she said, “Please forgive me.” There has been a clear consensus among readers (with which I agree) that the woman asked for forgiveness when forgiveness wasn’t the issue. But there is less consensus about what the woman might have said instead. What in fact did she need?

Frederick Buechner in a passage from Brendan opens the door to the alternative. He writes:*

Pushing down hard with his fists on the table top he [Gildas] heaved himself up to where he was standing. For the first time we saw he wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn’t leapt forward and caught him.

“I’m as crippled as the dark world,” Gildas said.

“If it comes to that, which one of us isn’t, my dear?” Brendan said.

Gildas with but one leg, Brendan sure he’d misspent his whole life entirely. Me that had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us. For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees.

“To lend each other a hand when we’re falling,” Brendan said. “Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.”

Why do we find it easier to ask for--or to accept--forgiveness rather than compassion?

Thinking that this week I want to lend a hand to the falling with such easy grace that  compassion is clearly a free gift—no request for forgiveness required or relevant.

See you next week.


*Frederick Buechner. 1992.  Listening to Your Life. Compiled and edited by George Connor.  New York: HarperOne, p.76.

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