“Martin Luther King, Jr., sitting up in heaven, has got to be one of the most pissed off angels up there,” said the skeleton of my father, considering King’s famous remark that forgiveness is not an occasional act but a permanent attitude.
“Forgive those who hate you, forgive those who humiliate you, forgive those who will never act humanly toward you, forgive those who will never admit they are shitting on you. King has got to be the angriest man in heaven. He did everything the way you would wish an oppressed person to petition for change. See how much has changed as a result of his life and sacrifice?”
Well, less than half of black children in America are now born in poverty.
“The percentage has actually gone up under our first black, our first mulatto, our first post-racial president,” said the skeleton.
That’s not fair, dad. He’s going to make some serious Tubmans on the lecture circuit when he’s through being the president. Plus, he’s surrounded by people who hate him, just because he’s a Muslim born in Kenya.
“Of course, you’re right,” said the skeleton.
I am thinking about forgiveness. Not as a permanent attitude but as a psychic necessity. If we don’t forgive, we carry the hurt and anger of the original injury until the end.
“Well, you can always use denial. That’s what most people do. You keep it in a box with a tight lid. The shit will come out once in a while, during a fight, or a bout of insomnia, but most of the time it can be kept quietly in an air-tight box. That’s the way most people handle it,” said the skeleton. “You know, that’s probably a good part of what my psoriasis was about, holding the rage in until it split my skin open.”
Did you ever forgive anyone?
“No, not really. But, look, I felt bad about that at the end, when I sought your forgiveness for having been such an implacably angry bastard,” said the skeleton.
I was kind of amazed to hear my almost eighty-one year-old father apologize for the first time.
“Well, that’s the way it is, most of the time. We don’t do things until we have to,” said the skeleton. “I know you and your sister speculated about whether, if I’d known I was dying months in advance, I would have had the kind of discussion you and I had the last night of my life weeks or months earlier. You said I would have started making my peace in a more systematic way, your sister said I would have waited ’til the very end anyway. Who knows?
“Most of what you are assembling here is in the realm of speculation. The muddy, doomed little hamlet of Truvovich? Did it even exist in the first place? I assume so, because that’s what I was told by my mother, my uncle. Look on a map, even one made before the Nazis raked under hundreds of such ill-fated little shitholes. No trace of the place.
“So you speculate, it was across the Pina River from Pinsk, a ferry ride, they said. In the marshes, yes, that’s what’s across the river from Pinsk. Marshes, mud, we’ve heard the place described as muddy. You speculate. Sometimes that’s all we have to go on, sometimes not even that.
“So now you find yourself floundering as you try to find the narrative whip to drive this herd of meandering dogies into a story. Are you surprised? There is a wealth of detail here in these five hundred plus pages, but not the thread of a story. Have you made your reader vitally curious about this fascinating monster of a protagonist? No? Then, as Calvin Coolidge told the woman who bet her husband she could get the taciturn president to say more than two words: you lose.” The skeleton sniffed the hot, humid, mid-summer breeze.
I lose, sure, unless I can find my way.
“Here’s hoping you find your way,” said the skeleton, looking out with sightless eyes, his jaw set in permanent wryness.