My father taught me one of the most amazing lessons I’ve ever learned about forgiveness. It happened when I was a young girl, about eight years of age or so. I was at home with my mother and two sisters just doing things around the house. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed, and there was a flurry of tension that shook me. My sisters were looking out the window, so I looked too.
Dad had pulled into the driveway and someone was in the car with him. As they climbed out of the car, we all gasped. The person who had been driving with Dad was a man who had done tremendous harm to him and caused great turmoil in our family.
Having watched far too many episodes of The Wild Wild West, my childish mind surmised that Dad had brought this man home so he could take him down into the basement and shoot him with one of his deer hunting rifles. I hid behind the recliner in the corner and waited. I heard talking as they made their way to the house. I heard the door swing open and closed. I heard the shuffle of feet up the back stairs and into the kitchen. I heard the kitchen door close. And I waited for the…BANG!
Instead I heard the scraping of chair feet on the floor and muffled voices. I smelled freshly brewed coffee. I heard cabinet doors and clinking spoons. I even heard laughter. But no BANG! Eventually, I heard the chair feet scraping again.
“Oh, golly. NOW he’s going to shoot him,” I shivered, wondering if Dad would wield his gun like James West or Artemus Gordon.
Nope. This time, the feet came into the living room. It was the man who’d wronged my father, and he’d come to apologize to us girls. After that, Dad and the man shook hands, went out, got in the car, and drove away.
Years later, I asked Dad why in the world he’d brought that man to our house — and why he offered him coffee instead of the end of the barrel of a .30 caliber. His answer was simple and yet profound.
“I knew that it was the only way to work things out,” he said.
By this time, I’d grown out of my The Wild Wild West phase, but still couldn’t believe that Dad hadn’t taken at least some kind of action against the man.
“So…you just…drank coffee…and…talked?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Dad answered.
“Uh…care to elaborate on that?” I prodded.
“Look. Bringing him to our house, sitting down face-to-face and talking things out helped him to understand how wrong he was in what he did. It also helped me to see if any part of it was my own fault. I wanted to make sure it would never happen again,” he explained.
Thanks be to God, Dad wasn’t a James West or an Artemus Gordon. I don’t think I would’ve liked him in spurred boots, anyway. No, he was just a regular guy — with plenty of faults of his own — trying to live the Gospel as best as he could. As far as I was concerned, he’d made a valiant effort and in the process left me a legacy of forgiveness.
The example Dad set for me on that coffee-in-the-kitchen day has had a major impact on my life. I’ve tried my hardest to imitate it, and at times it’s been a pretty hard act to follow. I can usually get up the driveway, out of the car, and up the back stairs. Sometimes I get stuck on my way through the kitchen door. Getting the coffee going can be a huge challenge. Still, I keep trying because I know that if I practice enough, forgiveness will come more and more easily.
So, this Lent I’m asking our Lord to clear the wild, wild west out of my heart and replace it with the warm, friendly kitchen. I’m asking him to help me believe what he proved on Good Friday and what a simple Milwaukee Dad lived valiantly — that all people are worthy of respect, understanding, and forgiveness. He has the power to do so; I just have to let him lead me through the doorway.
(© 2011 Marge Fenalon)