Practicing forgiveness is not an easy thing for me and I imagine the same for many of you out there. Just a few weeks ago, my mother passed away suddenly. Just three years after my father died, my mother was examined at her nursing home, sent to the hospital and before I could board my flight she was gone.
I didn’t find out until I was headed to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes.
It was the second time I was in an airport finding out a parent had died. The last time, I was on one of those lumbering belted walkways, rushing other travelers to their gates at Denver’s airport. I almost wanted to start a foundation whose sole purpose was to find people grieving in airports and offer some counseling. They would offer emotional triage in mid trip, especially during the summer, surrounded by cheery Disney draped families, children chirping along to their coastal vacations.
It was a weird thought to have on my own trip – thinking for a second that no technological intervention other than a full time, on demand personal Concorde flight would have helped. Again, my thinking went right to a solution that was mechanical in some way. Instead of spending time in the exact moment – exactly where I needed to be. With the rest of my family.
All of my siblings are older, the ones who could travel and made it to the funeral destination within mere hours of one another. Other than one of my sisters who could not travel, the only thing missing from this picture was an object – the only object that mattered in many ways. My mother’s wedding ring, with a 1 Karat, platinum mounted diamond, was missing. No one, not the nursing home, ambulance crew, emergency room staff or hospital administrators could account for it.
That ring was worn with faith, love and incredible dignity by a woman who was a teacher, a role model, wife and mother to six children. And while a ring as an object is an easy thing to lose, what it meant to her daughters and sons was more than its appraised value. It was something we all knew she wanted to be buried with in the faith that she would meet her husband again, he would see it and they would live out an eternal promise made on their wedding day.
My parents were great teachers of one virtue incredibly missing from our world, our discourse and our teachings. They were experts in forgiveness. But being the more rebellious of my siblings I found it the hardest virtue to practice, favoring others more – like justice.
It’s easier for someone who sees the world darkly to favor the story that says someone stole that ring, pawned it for some lowly sum – unequal to the symbolic worth of the years it was worn. That’s easier than thinking of it more objectively – that it was an old rock, held in a band of metal, worn on one finger for as long as it would fit.
What was more important? The object, or the promise?
Just after the funeral, thinking about the sharp sense of simple humor my father often showed, I thought for a second what my father might say. Seeing my mother’s finger naked for the first time since their vows, he might say jokingly with the bemused lovable smirk “Hey, (pause for effect) … where’s your ring?”
When people say, “you can’t take it with you,” this is the literal truth of all things except the vows, promises and work done in our lives to make our worlds better. Wherever that ring lies, whether it was through greed, stolen, or through negligence merely lost, nothing has undone the promise and the lesson.