Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The woman I am

In order to guard against the graduate student tendency to write scathing, sophomoric criticism of other scholars, one of my professors gave us a rule of thumb for writing literary reviews: “Always pretend the author is sitting beside you as you write it,” she told us, “and that he is in a wheel chair.” A good rule of thumb.

For Christmas this year, my family (the few of us who are not in China, at least) are hosting my two elderly grandmothers: the frail Southern lady in her late 80s who could talk the ears off of an elephant and the short Polish woman in her early 90s who could keep Armageddon a secret. It’s been one of the strangest Christmases I’ve ever had.

And somewhere in-between the occasional “yes’um”s I inserted to punctuate the stream-of-consciousness tales that went from her father’s scandalous affairs that were ironic considering he had initially joined the KKK because he thought it existed to beat up men who walked out on their wives when he was a cruel man anyway and forced her to drop out of high school so she could work at his firm and make money for him to pocket while he told her that all she would ever have going for her was her good looks, which she used to the best of her abilities anyway at least four times over beginning with the blond teenager whom she married because she was getting a little too old to be single and whom she convinced to joined the marines because she liked their uniforms the best until she sent him a “Dear John” letter when he got shipped away during the War because she had never been all that crazy about him anyway, not anymore than the man whose marriage produced her first daughter right before it was annulled, not like my grandfather who nevertheless wouldn’t initially sell his car to buy the particular ring she wanted which almost cost him her hand in marriage because she determined he didn’t value her enough to show her off as the high class person she was, the high class of person she declared us all to be which my brother’s nice car and new job demonstrated.... somewhere in-between these stories and the lite suggestions for selective breeding of humans that ironically harkened to the eugenics that I associated with the Nazis her various husbands had been fighting.... somewhere in-between all this I realized two things:

One: that my grandmother is not unlike the various girls who had made my life miserable when I was in high school and who I strove tirelessly to avoid becoming.

Two: that in her withered frailty I could not criticize her the way I had spent my adult life criticizing those women.

It made me reflect that every one of those cheerleaders who hurt me in high school will all be old frail women like my grandmother one day, unable to see the make-up they still put on their face every day and the wig that covers their bald heads, unable to color coordinate their clothing that is still important even if they can’t see it anymore than they can control their bowels or taste their food. We are called to forgive our enemies because the eugenics that Hitler organized is not unlike my frail grandmother’s suggestions for selective breeding at the dinner table, because the arrogance of the prom queen is not unlike my grandmother’s haggard dignity.

Then I reflected that I will be like my withered grandmother one day as well.

Then I reflected that I already am. In contrast to the woman I was created to be, I am that frail woman trying to maintain a dignified poise while wearing Poise panty-liners. In contrast to who we have it in us to be, we are walking on brittle bones and can hardly make it up the stairs. We are called to forgive demented autocrats because we ourselves suffer with dementia. Sin is an ailment we all suffer through together, like old folks at a nursing home sharing the latest news of our recent medical disorders.

Rejoice, Christmas reminds us: Christ has taken on our osteoporosis. He is sharing our dementia and our irritable bowel syndrome, our blindness and deafness and shriveled skin. Rejoice; if he could cross from radiance into dung, there is hope that we may cross from our dung into his radiance.

Any hope I have to be reborn into that radiance is the same hope my grandmother has, and that those cheerleaders have, and that my great-grandfather who may have been a Klansman had. What is there to do but to forgive?

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