Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A: A Sin (Celebrating the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary)


After I told you I'd be sharing from Brian Doyle's A Book of Uncommon Prayer, I'm starting out my blog tour with another piece of his. If you know me, you also realize I like to break my own rules! 

Doyle wrote "A Sin" back in 2005 and published it in Portland Magazine, the University of Portland publication he edits. When he read it to the audience at the Search for Meaning Festival, he cried through it and we cried with him. You can hear him read it in this video, around 25:30. 

What parent cannot relate to this heart-breaking, deeply honest piece of writing? We've all had our moments of weakness, when we do not speak with patience, or we get annoyed, or we forget for just one moment how desperately we wanted our children or how deeply loved they are were. I often face this guilt since we nearly lost our oldest son so many times when he was born so prematurelyHow I dare be anything but grateful every moment? I do not always remember to shower my children with unconditional love and patience. But we must forgive ourselves and ask our children to forgive us for our sins. Incidentally, this eldest son of mine is the most forgiving person I know. His depth of ability to forgive people stuns me and inspires me to be more forgiving myself.
Holding my 24-weeker for the first time, at 5 weeks old
I cannot even read this with dry eyes.

A Sin, by Brian Doyle

Committed a sin yesterday, in the hallway, at noon. I roared at my son, I grabbed him by the shirt collar, I frightened him so badly that he cowered and wept, and when he turned to run I grabbed him by the arm so roughly that he flinched, and it was that flicker of fear and pain across his face, the bright eager holy riveting face I have loved for ten years, that stopped me then and haunts me this morning; for I am the father of his fear, I sent it snarling into his heart, and I can never get it out now, which torments me.

Yes, he was picking on his brother, and yes, he had picked on his brother all morning, and yes, this was the culmination of many edgy incidents already, and no, he hadn’t paid the slightest attention to warnings and remonstrations and fulminations, and yes, he had been snide and supercilious all day, and yes, he had deliberately done exactly the thing he had specifically been warned not to do, for murky reasons, but still, I roared at him and grabbed him and terrified him and made him cower, and now there is a dark evil wriggle between us that makes me sit here with my hands over my face, ashamed to the bottom of my bones.

I do not know how sins can be forgiven. I grasp the concept, I admire the genius of the idea, I suspect it to be the seed of all real peace, I savor the Tutus and Gandhis who have the mad courage to live by it, but I do not understand how foul can be made fair. What is done cannot be undone, and my moment of rage in the hallway is an indelible scar on his heart and mine, and while my heart is a ragged old bag after nearly half a century of slings and stings, his is still new, eager, open, suggestible, innocent; he has committed only the small sins of a child, the halting first lies, the failed test paper hidden in the closet, the window broken in petulance, the stolen candy bar, the silent witness as a classmate is bullied, the insults flung like bitter knives.

Whereas I am a man, and have had many lies squirming in my mouth, and have committed calumny, and have evaded the mad and the ragged in the street, ignored the stinking Christ, his rotten teeth, his cloak of soggy newspapers, his voice of broken glass.

No god can forgive what we do to each other; only the injured can summon that extraordinary grace, and where such grace is born we cannot say, for all our fitful genius and miraculous machinery. We use the word god so easily, so casually, as if our label for the incomprehensible meant anything at all; and we forget all too easily that the wriggle of holy is born only through the stammer and stumble of us, who are always children. So we turn again and again to each other, and bow, and ask forgiveness, and mill what mercy we can muster from the muddle of our hearts.

The instant I let go of my son’s sinewy arm in the hallway he sprinted away and slammed the door and flew off the porch and ran down the street and I stood there simmering in shame; then I walked down the hill into the laurel thicket as dense and silent as the dawn of the world and found him there huddled and sobbing. We sat in the moist green dark for a long time, not saying anything, the branches burly and patient. Finally I asked for his forgiveness and he asked for mine and we walked out of the woods changed men.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Celebrating the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary


This is my third year in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. In 2013 I revisited the places I've traveled outside the U.S. (Oh the Places You'll Go!), and in 2014 I wrote about my own beloved city in Portlandia from A to Z

Earlier this year as I wondered what to tackle this year, I got the delicious opportunity to hear author Brian Doyle at the Search for Meaning Festival in Seattle. He entertained the packed audience at Seattle University by sharing his colorful writing, telling jokes and laugh-out-loud anecdotes, choking back tears, and entreating us to sing and cry along with him with his sometimes gut-wrenching words. 

Listening to him read from his work kindled my desire to write more. As much as I enjoy writing press releases like this one (my day job!), it's not the same as writing words that inspire, provoke, and move people. 

He read short pieces from A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, and I had to buy the book because so many touched me. I wrote to Brian and asked his permission to share his writing, and he consented! 
If you'd like to learn more about Brian Doyle, check out this video of his appearance at Boston University a few years ago (where he addresses 9/11), and you'll get a flavor of why I liked him so much. The Daily Beast calls him "a writer to be ignored at your own peril."

I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! If you'd like to read the remaining 70 prayers and select your own favorites, you can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on Amazon

Brian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Author Brian Doyle
There was an error in this gadget