I truly did not mean for my absence to be a full three weeks, Reader; I’m trying to stay to the every-other-week model, but oh, the shit that has derailed me of late.
I’m back in the Wicket Gate, having yet again said good-bye to the Land of Pilgrims and marveled that my heart did not fall out of my chest. And classes have started up again. But the main thing that’s consuming my days is the fallout of having had a subletter this summer who not only was careless herself but left the door open—literally—to any and all who decided to wander in, which in my neighborhood means rather a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves. So the last two weeks have been cleaning (as in I’ve-gone-through-three-rolls-of-Clorox-bleach-wipes and I-had-to-buy-gloves-for-this deep cleaning) and trying to figure out what can be fixed. It’s been convincing myself that I can live with the burn marks now on my nightstand even after I dumped the drawers full of cigarette butts. It’s been washing the walls and ceilings over and over again trying to get the smell of smoke to at least be palatable and not give me such a headache.
And it’s been grieving at the daily discoveries of what is lost. There’re the concrete panics, like the fact that someone unearthed my social security card and now I have to deal with the possibilities of identity theft, but there are also the suckerpunches of what I can’t replace. I can get a new pillow and new spoons and new towels, but I can’t get a new rosary blessed by the Pope from Italy from my parents’ visit to the Vatican. I can’t get a new high school class ring. I can’t get new notes from last year’s sermons at my church. It’s not every camel and the death of all my children, but it is a deep and abiding loss.
I have been fortunate—immensely fortunate, more than I can express—to have a community here in my fellow students spring into action. People have given me time, have given me a mattress, have given me access to their washers so I can launder the clothes that remain. People have given me so much and that has been amazing. But it doesn’t replace that which is lost, and it doesn’t cover the pain of it.
Some folks have, in a sincere and likely well-intentioned desire to help, asked if I’m angry. No—I am furious. I am horrified, I am enraged, I am wrathful. I want to punch things until I can’t feel my hands, I want to scream, I want to harm her for the harm done to me. The sorrow and hatred and pain and sheer outrage are coiled just beneath the surface of everything I do right now, and it is taking everything I have to avoid touching that surface lest the bubble break, lest I be overwhelmed by the immense power of those emotions and lose myself in them.
Because what would it gain me? She is gone I know not where. I don’t have the money to chase her through the legal system, though I have filed a police report and am certainly not shy about telling authorities anything I know of her information. And I don’t have the time—I work two jobs and am taking five classes as well as holding two offices in student associations on top of the slow and painful reclamation of this space. Vengeance just doesn’t fit on my schedule.
And vengeance it would be. I know enough of this woman to know she has even less than I do in finance, support, sanity. What good is blood from a stone? And I’ve been wrestling most in the last week or so with the promise that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
One of the many hard things about Christianity is that it demands that its adherents forgive. This does not mean excuse. The police report remains. The crime of this remains. It is not okay that this happened to me and I cannot believe that God would ever expect me to say it’s not a problem. The grief of this is very, very real. The shock of it is real. The pain of it is real, and no loving God would ask me to pretend that any of that is dismissible as though my reactions don’t matter. Jesus says flat out, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong” (Mt 18:15). Forgiveness, if it is to have any value at all, cannot come at the expense of my emotional validity.
But it must come.
Over and over again, Jesus says to His followers that we must return to the relationships that hurt not because we are called to be doormats but because we cannot hold others’ sins close to us in anger and hate. They will poison us, as surely as our own sins do—and we have our own sins. I have my own sins, to be sure, and I cannot ask God to forgive them if I am utterly unwilling to forgive another’s. I cannot ask for the mercy I refuse to grant.
I am human—very, very human, and I am angry, and I am hurt, and I will take a very long time to get to anything approaching forgiveness for this betrayal. But I must recognize that I have to walk that direction precisely because it goes against everything in me, precisely because I am so pissed that God would be cruel enough to ask me to do anything other than put spikes around my broken heart and never trust again. Four hundred and ninety times I am called to forgive these people who are awful and deserve punishment.
May I eventually have the strength for the very first time.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, ERV)