Books: A season for sorry

An excerpt from ‘Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving’ by Barbara Mahany.

A mother and her baby (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
A mother and her baby (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
 It was more or less the usual bumbling that comes when a boy and a backpack are tumbled together. Things that are supposed to get stuffed inside, aren’t.
Where they go, nobody knows.
Only thing was, last eve the clock chimed eight as we discovered the spelling list was nowhere to be had. Which led to the discovery that the whole dang homework folder was missing in action.
Which led to the theorem, posited by young boy, that since none of the above was anywhere in this old house, it must be somewhere in the depths of his school desk. Without prompting, he confessed: “It’s pretty messy, I probably couldn’t find it.”
Which led to the low, moaning rumble that sometimes comes from a motherly creature when she is trying to decide whether to yank out a clump of her own hair or grab the car keys and hope against hope that one of the nice janitors will wander with mop and bucket past the schoolhouse door just as she and her little one are banging away on the glass.
Not willing to spare any more of my curly pewter locks, we went with the option with keys. Flew through the door, into the wagon, and sputtered along until we got to the nearly dark school. From the start, at least one of us knew deep inside that this was an exercise in utter futility. But we banged on the glass anyway. It makes for a loud impression when hoping to teach that one oughtn’t race out the school door without packing essentials.
Alas, no janitor. No mop and no bucket. Just us banging and hoping.
Soon watching hope whirl down the drain and turning at last back toward the curb and the futile-mobile.
Once home, I told the little one to sit down with a pencil and try as hard as he could to remember the twenty-two words on the list. Or at least four or five.
While he got to work with the pencil, I sat down to dash off a note to the teacher. Explaining why the quiz on those words, the one on the morrow, might be a bust.
That’s when a lined sheet of notebook paper came swooshing under the door. I looked down and saw only two words, under the heading “MY Words.”
“Is that all you could think of ?” I called to the invisible someone who had shoved it under the door.
“Look at it,” the invisible someone called back.
“Is that all you could remember?” I said again, frustration clutching my throat.
“Look at it,” said Mr. Invisible.
And so I did. I picked up the page, and there on the back was a lopsided heart. And another one tucked in a sentence up at the top: “I (heart) you.”
His rumply letters continued: “I am soooooo sorry I’ll make you brekfast and coffe love Ted”
Be still my lopsided heart.
Be still my heart that couldn’t care more for the two extraordinary spellings there in the note.
Through tears, I leapt up from my chair. Chased that irresistible speller straight up the stairs, where I grabbed him and kissed him until he melted to giggles.
Then I stood there melting myself.
That he would leap straight to “sorry,” rather than pout or huff and puff about how it was only some words, lined up in rows.
That he would hightail it straight through repent and onto repair – “I’ll make you breakfast and coffee.”
All because of some runaway spelling words...
The child had grasped, without pausing for punctuation, without worry for vowels in absentia, the heart and the soul of atonement, of Yom Kippur, really, that somber string of breast-beating moments that is launched, according to the Hebrew calendar that is ours as much as the Gregorian keeper of days, at sundown tonight.
It is all about actively mending the brokenness. Not just whispers of hollow apology, but picking up thread and stitching sanctified wholeness. Weave and reweave.
Just yesterday I was talking to a wise and wonderful rabbi. We were talking about teshuva, the Jewish principle of repentance – repent and repair – the centerpiece of these Days of Awe, of the Day of Atonement.
“I have sinned, and for this I am heartily sorry.”
The words of the Prayer of Contrition of my little-girl days.
Catholic or Jewish, Jewish or Catholic – is it not all a great swirl, a soup of humble I’ve-wronged-and-I’ll-right-it?
And it came skittering in through the crack beneath my door last night, the wise little confessor with the wobbly printing and the words that couldn’t have been cobbled together in more heart-melting fashion.
Breakfast and coffee and sorry and love.
And isn’t this some sweet season of awe, when the children among us can teach as profoundly as all of the rabbis? When the scribbled words on a half-crinkled page of notebook paper can speak to us as loudly as the words of the great books of our ancient traditions?
“I am soooooo sorry I’ll make you brekfast and coffe”
Oh, my most blessed child, you’ve taken my breath straight from my lungs, from my heart, from my whole.
We thought it was spelling words we were missing last night; in fact, we found deepest religion, a subject often best taught by the youngest and wisest among us.
The ones whose hearts are, still, tethered to heaven.