In the first week of this online retreat, we are called to consider our life’s stories. I was thinking back to many memories of the days before I was baptized (at age 11), but one that stood out a little bit was an act of reconciliation. And I’m not sure where it came from.
When I was about six, two brothers lived a few houses away. I think they were about one and two years older than me. From my earliest memory, my mother had bad-mouthed them as bullies and rude boys. She said I should stay away from them. I thought of them as my “enemies,” though I don’t know where that term came from. I was afraid of them, and yet I don’t ever have a memory of them hurting me.
Thing is, I really liked the girl who lived next door to them. I remember one luminous day (I can’t think of a better adjective) in which the two of us raced our tricycles around the block of six or eight townhouses. I came home so happy that I ate peas without complaint. I think I even told my mother I was so happy that I even liked peas. (That was the only day of my childhood, however, I felt like eating peas.)
Anyway, word was out in the neighborhood that those boys were moving away. And I saw this girl playing with them that one day I heard. And I don’t know what it was inside of me, but I approached the older brother. I said it didn’t make sense for us to fight, and for me to be bullied by them. So I reached out my hand and suggested we be friends for the last month they lived in the neighborhood. And to my surprise, he accepted my handshake.
It was the first chink that my parents, especially my mother, might not be all-seeing and all-knowing. I was happy to make peace. But I was also a little sad, with the realization that our friendship was only going to last a month. I remember playing with those guys almost every day. And my mother turned out to be wrong: they were really nice guys.
While I was at an Iowa campus ministry meeting this morning, I heard two colleagues talking about some difficulty with someone. At first, I was inclined to sympathize, but then I caught myself. Just yesterday I had reflected on those two brothers, and how my mother happened to be wrong. And I realized that while I could respect the experience of these people, I didn’t have to buy their suspicions. And indeed, I don’t have to accept any bad news somebody did to someone else.
It’s a small piece of insight for the first day of retreat, but it seemed at least medium-significant to me.