Mind On The Run: Forgive! But Never Forget! (Part 2)
(Musical accompaniment: “Begin the Beguine” by Cole Porter — sung by Andy Williams.)
The following morning my wife and I embarked on a long-awaited cruise to the Bahamas. My main motive was to extricate myself from a state of mind that had been fomenting for weeks, even months. I will allow Ishmael (the “outcast”), the protagonist of Herman Melville’s behemoth classic, “Moby Dick,” to represent this mental state in his own words:
“I thought that I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world….Whenever I find myself growing grim around the mouth, whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul….and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
My solemn state initially created a mental barrier to enjoying the tropical vacation splendor. I loathed every individual toting a mixed drink, especially those cluttering the puny pool (hardly larger than a hot tub) where I had intended to swim laps; it required a strong moral principle to prevent me from methodically knocking the miniature umbrellas out of their plastic cups. Mounds of highly-rich food everywhere; even worse, snapshots of yourself eating the food (for a steep price). Bargains galore. $500 wristwatches for sale. Wealth and physical beauty flaunted.
“I cannot relate to this floating mall of fat and alcohol,” I argued to myself. But after a couple of days enjoying beaches of crystal clear water, kayaking, snorkeling, and running on the deck track with the ocean wind stiffly in my face, I mellowed. Many of our family members had joined us on this planned family rendezvous — some we see weekly, some monthly, some almost never. There were nieces who had grown to young adulthood in what seemed a blink of the eye. There was Luke, the preadolescent nephew who was young enough so that in our relationship I had always been like a grandfather-in-training; he taught the old man how to snorkel and dance the beguine.
Significant others in an important place creating future memories for all to treasure. I did not hold it against the wiseacres who deceived me into showboating the iconic glasses of Elton John while the pianist in a late-night cabaret (of all places) played “Benny and the Jets.”
And, as if according to script, the considerations of everyday life and, along with these, the puny white church of the “Forgiving Nine,” were almost forgotten.
All of this served as a refresher in the unconditional love of the family, who you have no choice in picking — and no choice but to leave when the party is over. I felt emptiness of heart on disembarking from the ship — the sound of silence of crying within. None of us can question the immense impact of family on our lives — none more so than the families of the “Forgiving Nine,” who lost their loved ones forever. With all due respect to the powers of heaven and earth, their declaration of unconditional forgiveness for the heinous act of murder by a desperate stranger displayed “no greater love.”
The hallowed ground on which the Mother Emanuel Church stands must be dedicated to all of mankind. If several days on a cruise ship can weaken the memory of one old onlooker, what of the distractions of the years and centuries ahead?
Few will read what is written here and fewer still will remember what is decried by the author. But as Abraham Lincoln implored to all Americans in his Gettysburg Address:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
I no longer need to remember where the arrow points, whether into the hearts of the Forgiving Nine, or the perpetrator of the crime, or to the conscience of America, or to the soul of all mankind. Just as the bell tolls for all of us, likewise does the arrow point.