Search the Web

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Time to Heal

There are some things it's always time for. Healing and forgiveness in particular.
Today's first reading told us this:


Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!
And memories, unhappy ones, came flooding back. I'm not proud to admit that my first thought was "Oh, good. I want justice."

It was 1997, and I was going through a divorce. I had driven 2,000 miles to get home, in a Geo Metro, with three kids and whatever possessions we could fit in the back of the car. It was a complete leap of faith, because the "home" to which I was returning wasn't a house or an apartment; it was a state, where my family lived. But I did not have a home waiting. My sister and her husband put us up for as long as they were able, but the price of housing was higher than I'd anticipated, and I couldn't find any apartment in the county that cost less per month than my welfare income. Child support had not yet been established, I found myself homeless with three young children. Finally, at the last possible moment, I got someone to rent me a house, and although the situation was far from optimal, at least we had a roof over our heads. The downside was that the owner of the house dropped by whenever she wanted, and always brought with her a sense of darkness and fear that I could not dispel. She would criticize me for having food out ("inviting critters") while we were eating dinner. She judged me harshly for having clothes on the bedroom floor, although she'd neglected to make available the dresser she'd promised. All of this was worth tolerating, though, for a sense of safety for the kids, and a chance to make new beginnings.

Then, after four months, the situation got ugly. The landlord had decided she'd make more money during the summer by renting the house out as a summer cottage for tourists, and she appeared on the last day of the month to tell me I had to be out by the following day. What could I do? I started packing. By this time, we had a lot of stuff, because my ex had mailed package after package to me in an attempt to prove good will. I had also just done my monthly grocery shopping, and filled the refrigerator with the last of my month's food stamps.

I rented a storage unit, and a friend rented a U-Haul trailer to bring my things there, but it would take two trips because we'd gotten the smallest trailer. On the way out, I ran into the landlord, and warned her that I had cancelled two of the checks that were awaiting her in her post office box: I had cancelled the check for next month's rent, since I would not be there, and I had cancelled this month's check which she had not yet cashed, because I had paid first, last, and deposit when I moved in, so she had already been paid for this month. Obviously, I was going to need that money to get a new place.

She accused me of "pulling a stunt" and got very angry. Evidently she had counted on having an extra two months of rent from me. When I returned to collect the rest of my things, she had changed the lock. Eventually she toted about half of my remaining things to my sister's house and dumped them on the lawn. She kept the most expensive items, though, and literally all of the food. I was now without food for the next month, with no place to live, and with threats of legal action against me. All of this with no warning at all.

Things eventually worked out. We got a one time "homeless benefit" from the state which helped us pay for a motel and helped us with move in costs when I finally found a low cost apartment in another county. My mother and sister helped out with meals until the next food stamps arrived; and we eventually ended up in a secure and attractive apartment that, miraculously, cost an amount I could barely afford. But in these ten years I've still found it difficult to forgive someone who put us on the street and stole from us while we were homeless. I got over the loss of the Revereware that had been a wedding present pretty quickly, but the loss of the lifelong collection of family photos was a lot harder to forget. Greed I can understand; but stealing the food from the mouths of small children is much harder to understand. The maliciousness that inspires the destruction of someone's childhood memories cannot even be explained by the desire for personal gain.

I hope you'll pardon me for my relapse here. I needed to unburden myself of this story for what I hope will be the last time. These, though, are the memories that flooded back as I heard today's first reading.

Then the choir began.
If today, if today you hear the voice of God, open up your heart and listen to his Word.
If today, if today you hear the voice of God, harden not your hearts, harden not your hearts.


And I knew. He wants us not to harden our hearts. He wants me not to harden my heart. Not just to Him, but to anyone. It is time to forgive, and to let go of the hurt and anger from all those years ago. I doubt I will ever see this person again in this world, and it is time to stop hoping not to see her in the next.

I have all I need, praise God. I have the love of an amazing man and an amazing family. What ingratitude to allow a loss ten years ago to make me think any less of this beautiful life God has given me.