Forgiveness is the perfume the trampled flower casts back upon the foot that crushed it.
-Attributed to Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and a variety of clueless blog writers
For many years this quote, several poems, an oil-pastel portrait of our Scottish terrier, and a string of daisies adorned our upstairs bathroom. These gems, the first of which appeared circa 1986, were drawn directly onto the original 1963 yellow-and-white wallpaper by my sister and myself as a protest against the paper’s perceived ugliness. The bathroom has long since been updated and stripped of its character-filled wall adornments but this particular quote–provided, I believe, by my friend Jill–is one of the few that remains for me, to this day, a source of humility and something worthy of my consideration.
We have all done selfish things, naughty things, things we wish we hadn’t done and hope will disappear, but few of us have learned the solidarity of forgiveness that must needs follow these behaviors. We have all lost our tempers, we have lied and stretched the truth to fit our needs, we have ‘left things undone’, so to speak, and we have very often shirked what little responsibility we have truly been given on this earth.
Most of us, if not each of us, barring the psychopath or the deranged, has felt remorse, sudden and uncomfortable, creep up on us as we shoulder the guilt of an unwise action. That sense of righteousness or pride that led us to our un-right action is, if we are fortunate, followed quickly by a flash of despair over what we have done. We wish it were not so and, instead of begging forgiveness, often we follow the lie or the theft or unkindness with yet another round of the same. We long to ask forgiveness but our pride prevents us: we do not know where to begin because we think we are still the flower when really, we are the foot.
And because we have deceived others, we know what it is to sit at the receiving end of such unpleasantness and even cruelty. We have been stood up, we have been dumped, we have been lied to or stolen from or hurt by someone–likely many someones. We have been broken into, in one way or another, and we have not always acted in accord. That is, we have indeed acted in accord–but not like the flower. For when a foot, shod or bare, tramples a flower, breaks its stalk, and removes its petals the flower does not and cannot trample back. The wild exception is the blackberry cane, but even then the fruit it bears is sweet, purple and forgiving. No, the flower bends and is sometimes broken, but it often will, when carefully and curiously examined, cast upon us a fragrance. This is what is meant by in accord.
So often the inclination of our heart is not to release anything akin to perfume when the boot comes down upon us. Instead our first response is to weep angry thoughts and sharpen hardened words and to be, in a sense, the blackberry vine sans fruits. We dagger our feelings into each other and into ourselves because we have been wounded and we want to wound in return. When hurt by someone’s selfishness, unkindness, lack of thought, or lack of understanding we weep, and we also harden. Soon we are behaving unkindly ourselves and crushing the beautiful blooms around us, simply because we reacted like a blackberry vine and not a flower. If forgiveness is the perfume then peace must be the fruit. And it is for these fruits that we work and are known, as the disciples of the Christ who called us be in the tiresome, troubling world, but not of it; to be, as it were, the flower and not the foot.