Preparing for the Days of Awe
Tall John, part 1
It’s about forgiveness
I fell asleep on the couch. Didn’t feel too good the entire night. Tired out. Fell asleep in my clothes on the top of my bed, boots and all. Ordinarily I love falling asleep with my boots on, like sleeping on the prairie, but Saturday night I just fell asleep. Unreconciled. Unforgiven. Disappointed. Vague but present feelings of inadequacy. Unreconciled is the word. Unreconciled is the world.
I dreamed that I couldn’t find my way, missed all my connections, alone and wandering, lost in a strange location, adrift on a dangerous sea in a rudderless boat. Woke up Sunday morning early, same feelings. Like my boots, I awoke with the same feelings I had on when I went to sleep. Unreconciled. Unforgiven. Disappointed. Had a meeting at nine A.M. was running the track at eight A.M. writing the residue that the dream had left in me. Unsettling unreconciled abandoned even.
Running the track at eight A.M. a little pocket notebook and a pen around my neck. Stop and write. It’s about forgiveness I write. Sure a little angst this time of year is entirely appropriate I am thinking (summertime, just before the holidays, Elul to be precise). It’s about forgiveness. That’s right. Forgiveness? I am searching my memory for something I have done that begs forgiveness.*
Some time earlier, I was asked to perform a wedding in a park. Dancing and storytelling, a little music. A tall man with an interesting face hovering over the rest of the crowd riveted by the ceremony totally present. I am introduced to him, tall John, we exchange pleasantries. He withholds his wisdom but I see it on his face. I knew he had something to say, something important, but we never got to it. I regretted it standing there against a metal rail, staring at the crowd, silent. Too shy, I.
Two years later I am performing another ceremony. I am granted the rare second chance. Tall John present again, hovering over the crowd, completely present, beautifully engaged. This time I intend to mine his wisdom. I know he has it. I wander over to him after the ceremony. Everyone else is congratulating bride and groom, tall John and I snatch a few moments of conversation. He is a poet and is telling me about one of the most powerful religious experiences of his life. “It’s about forgiveness,” he said to me. “It’s all about forgiveness. I asked for it. I prayed for it. I felt it. What a ceremony. . .”
I had not forgotten tall John nor his message. So Sunday morning I’m running the track at eight A.M. after being abandoned in my dream, I am writing in my little notebook to make sense of the dream residue. It’s about forgiveness I write. It’s the cargo of forgiveness rolling through me that I am feeling, bad dream, lousy sleep, I am unreconciled, unforgiven, disappointed.
Whose forgiving whom? There’s one other runner on the track. He’s walking the track, earphones, black socks. I pass him. It’s tall John.
“Remember me?” I say to him. “Sure I remember you,” tall John says. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Some dream you had last night,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say, feeling invaded.
“You know,” he says, “it’s all about forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the center.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but who’s forgiving whom, who’s being forgiven? Am I forgiving? Am I forgiven? Do I forgive myself?” Tell me, tall John, you’re the one who brought it to me in the first place, I am thinking, more annoyed than awe-struck.
“I wish I could tell you,” tall John says. “But I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”
“By the society of poets. They sent me. It’s not a God thing, it’s a poetry thing. People often call the poetry thing a God thing, people confuse us with angels which delights us poets to no end but the society of poets is a secret society. If I were an angel instead of a poet, I would tell you what to do. Poets will never tell you. It takes a lot of discipline to remain secret,” he says.
“Discipline,” he says. “There’s so many temptations to go public. Our meeting, for example, at the wedding is as public as we get.”
I’m trying to sort all the things I thought were God things that were actually poetry things, all the poetry things that were actually God things, understanding now the source of most theological confusion.
“Find someone you want to ask forgiveness from, something unfinished, something unsaid, some hurt something intentional or unintentional,” tall John says. “Ask them for forgiveness,” tall John says. “Say — ‘I am sorry please forgive me for anything I have done to hurt you,’ ” tall John says. “We are not reconciled, with ourselves or with God, until we have made peace with one another.”
“When you have done that,” said tall John, smiling, “then you speak to God, to the God of your understanding. Say it out loud ‘I screwed up — forgive me.’ Just say it, with your moon roof open driving down Ladue Road at night, in the shower with the hot water splashing on your face, say it. Out loud. ‘I messed up, forgive me.’ And you are forgiven, when you have spoken. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Was it an angel speaking to me, or a poet?
Boom boom boom boom I’m running the track again.