Thinking About Forgiveness in the S.P.U.

It’s 6:55 a.m. on a brilliantly bright day and I’m sitting in the reception area of my local hospital’s Short Procedure Unit. As I rest my elbows atop the smooth gray formica counter, I gaze at a half dozen pairs of eyes; some worried, a few preoccupied, all riveted on the door through which the nurses emerge, clipboard in hand, a patient’s name on their lips.
It’s cold in here this morning, and I know the sun will never spread its warm arms back to the area that encloses me. I don’t have any chance of being wrapped in that orb’s embrace. When I think about it, and I ponder little else these days, my chances of being held in any embrace are presently slim to none right.
This hospital where I’ve chosen to do volunteer work is a Catholic institution. Among other things, that means while I’m here this morning I’ll greet a couple of nuns, look at a small palm cross that’s scotch-taped to the wall, and read the messages printed on two mini-placards facing me.
One placard which quotes Scripture (Gal. 22-23,) describes all the positive qualities we humans receive by the grace of God’s presence. The second message is short, almost terse. “Mistakes happen. God forgives.”
I wonder about that. Does S/He forgive everyone? How about the thief whose crime deprives a child of food? Does God forgive the drunk driver who accidentally kills someone, or the bank loan officer who, eager to make her monthly quota of mortgage approvals, grants a loan to a couple whose shaky financial circumstances guarantee that they will default on their payments and lose their home?
And what about the once honorable, faithful woman who betrayed her partnership vows in order to stoke the sparks of a new romance? Does she receive divine forgiveness? Does she receive a pardon from anyone? Or does she twist in the dark abyss that was once her world of close friendships, a lushly landscaped former home, her comfort zone where love and trust lived for many, many years?
I admit to owning a great deal of skepticism about organized religion. And lately I’ve been placing a check next to the “spiritual but not religious” space on those Internet profile forms. While I question the existance of a supreme being who doles out discretionary pardons, I know with certainty that there is one person who at this moment, cannot move beyond withholding forgiveness from me. I understand why so well that I “overstand.”
To either give or hold on to forgiveness is a powerful act. It is far more powerful than the smiles of empathy I offer to the anxiety wracked patients and their family members and friends who are here in this hospital waiting room. In some measure though, my smile and upbeat greeting filled two hour shifts on Monday and Wednesday mornings are my “pay-it-forward” style attempts at earning forgiveness.
I cannot un-do my mistakes. I regret making them and I rue the days and nights I leapt into the unknown without a safety net. I shall continue seeking forgiveness while I search for a way to forgive the person who betrayed my goodwill and trust.
Someone, perhaps the Chief Building Engineer, must have turned on the air conditioning system, because it’s colder now than it was an hour ago. I’ll need to grab every opportunity I can to offer a kind word or gesture to someone who’s awaiting surgery, so that I can raise the temperature back here in my area of the S.P.U. The cold air is unforgiving. But that doesn’t mean that I am also.

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