We can’t un-create our memories, I told him. Some things, we’ll forget, but mostly we’ll remember the things that make us feel strongly. What do you think I will remember about this weekend?
He lay on the white sheets of the hotel bed, his face turned away from me. It was just the two of us—brother in the shower, dad getting coffee.
I wasn’t trying to shame him. Just make him think. I wasn’t sure which one was happening.
He wanted to be mad, so he didn’t say anything.
What you do—what you say—it affects other people. That’s why you must be very careful with your words and actions. There’s no do-over.
I went on about forgiveness and grace, something about how we write the stories of our life. He took his turn in the shower without a word or backward glance to me.
I just sighed.
While he showered, they went ahead to get breakfast—because there’s no asking a thirteen year-old to wait. But I did. I waited.
He came out in a rush of steam, white towel wrapped around his little body. Immediately, he lunged at me–wrapped his arms around my waist, buried his face in my chest.
I’m sorry, mommy, he said, melting in the steam.
It’s okay, honey.
I smoothed his wet hair with my fingers.
But I can’t take it back, he said. I can’t un-create it.
Oh, honey, I said, hugging his warm pink flesh. You just did.
We can’t un-create our memories, I had told him. But that’s exactly what we did in the next moments. We sat on that hotel bed and went through the events of the previous day and night together. But this time, we picked out the good parts. There was no mention of the bad attitudes, flares of temper, or sulky silences that colored the entire trip. I didn’t refer to how let down I felt– that this time I had so looked forward to had been nothing but a big bundle of stress and disappointment.
I wanted him to know. There are consequences to his choices. Surely he knows this? He just didn’t think about it in the previous twenty-four hours. He didn’t want to.
What he says and does affects me. What he says and does affects those around him.
I wanted him to know. But do I? What I say and do matters. It impacts my small world. And my small world impacts the world at large.
Scott Cairns, in his beautiful book The End of Suffering, reminds me:
…Every choice in our lives that separates us from communion with God, and every decision that clouds our awareness of His presence or erodes our relationships with on another has a profound and expanding effect—as the proverbial ripples in a pool…
As I forgave my young son and chose to let go of disappointment, I felt the ripple.
Trouble was, we had been a bowl full of ripples all weekend…the wrong kind. Like when I hissed out of the corner of my mouth to the boys that I might strangle their father any minute. His ripples had bumped up against me until I was a tidal wave. It was a weekend of roiling waters.
This idea—that we are all connected—is not a new one. We are the Body; we cannot be whole apart from one another. But have I really considered what this means?
…all of creation is implicated in this phenomenon we variously call salvation, redemption, reconciliation. Like the late theologian John Romanides, I suspect that our saving relationship with God is quite specifically “as the Body of Christ”; our salvation is not a discrete, individualized, private bargain struck, but comes by way of our continuing participation in divine life, as a member of a holy body that is at once both alive and life-giving. (Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering).
How do I communicate this to my young son? How do I commit it to my person?
We are not alone in this thing. We need each other. It’s much easier for me to be aware of our interconnectedness when the one my ripple washes over sits beside me. It’s easy when I have felt the ripples of his actions. But what of my other parts? The ones in other countries gasping for air, for clean water, for…love? What of those in the inner cities who know no other way of life than violence? The homeless?
As I hold my boy in my arms, I feel the world in my arms.
Oh, Lord. Be the stone. Let me be a ripple of your splash.