Yesterday, after years of not thinking about an old flame, I looked him up on Facebook, and came across a recent album of many members of his family having dinner together. His father was there, but his mother notably absent. Intrigued, for reasons that will soon become clear, I googled her and came across two death notices in Irish newspapers.
My first reaction to my husband was: Good. She deserves to be dead. I confess this humbly, not because I still think she deserves to be dead. The reaction, thank God, soon felt really wrong to me, and in a quiet moment away from the family I fell on my bed, saying sorry Lord, I am so sorry, I am so primitive, please forgive me for this terribly shallow and flesh-like reaction. Please renew my thinking, please make it possible for me to wish this woman peace, at least, as in my experience she did not feel very peaceful most of the time I knew her.
And He did. As always when we ask for the right things, the answer was immediate. When I went to bed, I re-lived all the times she went out of her way to make me feel stupid, wrong, or clumsy, and I wasn’t angry or bitter any more. I remembered how she often went into her potter’s studio in a “mood”, or retreated to her bedroom for long periods of time with a headache. I remembered how scathing she could be, particularly about Protestant “reverends” on morning radio devotions. Did she die as staunch a Catholic as she appeared to me? I think not, as there was no funeral. I just wished, and with this I finally fell asleep peacefully myself, that she had found peace in the end, and that her afterlife is somehow positive. Maybe not theologically clear to conservative Christians, but seeing that not one of us is in a position to judge, that was, in broad terms, what I wished her.
I was reminded that I don’t need to take people’s hostility personally. That, as in her case, people have to cope with a great many things, and most of us buckle under the strain at least some of the time. So the next thing I am praying for is a constant awareness of this fact, and an active and immediate compassion when it happens to me again – no, it doesn’t come naturally yet, but I believe that as I am transformed gradually, it WILL come – and I hope to be able to respond to everyone with equanimity and understanding.