I’m going to get a little serious this week, on our free week, I’d like to talk about mercy.
When a new cat entered our lives a few years ago, I asked my husband to name her. He had insisted that we change the name of the last dog we had because he didn’t like the cartoon character that would always be brought up whenever anyone heard the dog’s name. He came up with another short name that had the same vowel/consonant sound, to keep the dog from being confused. It worked.
But we had no idea what this cat had been called. No one was looking for her, try as we might to find the owner. She had been spayed and declawed, (which is a terrible thing to do to a cat), and then just let her go out into the world. Cats with all of their defenses and capable of catching mice still can’t often make it, or make it well, out in the cold, cruel world. This one was starving, slowly.
Maybe because she had been abandoned, maybe because she was declawed and felt otherwise defenseless, the cat had an attitude. She was touchy and she bit readily. She wouldn’t let the other cats near her, either. She trusted no one, not even the hands that fed her. My husband named her “Mercy”. When I asked why, he said that more mercy was needed in this world, that we all needed it.
I spent much of my life being afraid of when others thought and yet judging them at the same time. I was bothered by slights and outright assaults. I harbored grudges and closed myself away from uncomfortable situations for a very long time, which made me uncomfortable all of the time.
Even after I came out of my shell a bit, I was bothered by the way many people had treated me, and closed myself up and avoided any potentially difficult situation. Unfortunately, my childhood was spent within a dysfunctional extended family, many of whom found me as an inconvenience or someone who didn’t count as much as other family members. I also had bitter old women neighbors who seemed to enjoy being cruel to me. I had younger people who loved to embarrass me. And it took me decades to kick the bitterness.
But I did.
I did because I was thrown into circumstances where I could not revert into my shell. I had to face people and some pretty bad situations where other people’s needs were more important than my hurt little feelings, or my fears. I have taken comfort in the saying: “Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that something is more important than your fear”. I had loved ones around me in bad situations which only I could alleviate, no matter what I had to endure. I learned that I could be braver than I ever believed possible. I found that I could reach out of myself and see WHY some people act as cruelly and badly to others as they do, and to have mercy.
Jealousy is a major factor in terrible things that people will do to others, but often, that goes back a generation or more, and the person who is being cruel is the victim of the jealousy. Not to say that one should ignore or allow cruelty to continue, on the contrary. It has to stop in our hearts before we become bitter ourselves.
We can’t change people who are deeply scarred. The children’s stories of nasty old women next door who are won-over and change into grandmotherliness by a plate of cookies is unrealistic, (trust me). Ebenezer Scrooge was a better man in his youth and what brought him back to the man he used to be? Mercy.
I am no longer bothered by the neighbors’ lack of feelings or downright abuse, since I have taken the time to remember what little I know about their lives, especially the cruelest one. She had a very hard childhood, abused and abandoned. She did not know how to relate to others. She did not know how to care for and be cared for. And I have recognized that in many, too many, others.
I ran across all of this in others that I have had to face. It seems that hard youth leads to two kinds of people: those who continue the abuse, often without even knowing why, and others who, through some grace, realize that they need to spread kindness. That grace is mercy, and to some of us, it comes the hard way.
People do things for a reason. It doesn’t have to be a good reason, but there is always a reason. We have to examine situations righteously, but tempered with mercy. I found that I had been harsh, and sometimes even cruelty came from me that was a reflection of somethings inflicted upon me. I realized that I needed to strengthen myself…with mercy. To show mercy is not to show weakness, quite the contrary.
I don’t like what is around me all of the time and believe me, if you have seen my Facebook page, you know that I do not float on a cloud with a pious half-smile on my face; I get pretty angry. I like to think that when I have anger it is justifiable, (most of the time), and I think I am realistic about expecting better things from most people, and that in itself has paid off for myself and others because:
expecting more from people, yet accepting that some people are damaged beyond repair, and facing both realistically, has made life easier. In trying my best with everyone, even when it has had to be “Tough Love”, I try to do it all with mercy.
This being a time of upheaval in the world over, I offer no answers; there are no easy ones. We all need to show and accept mercy. The phrase, “Charity begins at home” can also be rephrased to “Mercy begins at home”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta told people who zealously wanted to fly to her and help care for the lepers that they didn’t need to do anything that drastic. She told them it was an equally important work of charity for them to listen to a lonely neighbor. An act of mercy.
I take this time, this time of Lent, this time before most of us will celebrate Easter, to remind myself and others that mercy, true mercy, comes to us freely, radiates from each of us in the simplest ways, if we only open our hearts, to receive it and use it wisely.
And the cat? Suffice it to say she slept on the pillow next to my grandson on his bed all last night.