It never occurred to me during those long ago summer days when I wore my blond hair tightly braided so I could play baseball more efficiently that my soul was braided just as tightly.
I like to think that every child starts out that way, but as he or she grows their compassion and their humanity grow along with them. I forgot about my teenage years. The older me fingers my blond again – natural after years of being mousy brown but now mixed with gray –hair and it reminds me when I was eleven playing baseball in the vacant lot beside the Zawoysky house on Goodell Street. (It’s now filled with a house, sigh!!) All of the neighborhood kids played baseball in that lot and it didn’t matter what color your hair or skin was as long as you were a good player at least most of the time.
I imagined that those long summer afternoons of playing ball and trading insults and baseball cards and drinking Koolaide would last forever. Growing up loomed like a thunderstorm over the horizon but as long as the thunder remained distant, I was content. I braided my hair as tightly as I could to preserve the status quo.
Two years later we didn’t play ball at the vacant lot any longer. We went to dances at school and were in involved in young people’s activities at church. We were immersed in the process of growing up. Bouffant hairdos were in and I teased my hair along with the rest of the girls and sprayed its free flying masses with hairspray, but my soul was still braided.
Two years later, my Mom decided to finish the one year of high school she had left so that she could receive her diploma. Instead of discretely going at night, she decided to attend day classes. I was mortified. Passing her in the hall, I pretended I didn’t know her. When the few teachers that had taught both her and my father before inheriting their children said something about her courage, I tossed my long freely flowing hair and tuned them out.
My Mom graduated, but she didn’t attend commencement so I thought her achievement was over and I could go on being a teenager with a selective, selfish memory. My hair flowed free but my soul was still braided. I hadn’t forgiven her for embarrassing me. As time went on, I couldn’t forgive her for a toxic list that defined our relationship, but my conscience that was striving to grow with God’s guidance shied away from the forgiveness. I tried loosening my braids, but they remained tightly wound.
Years later, forty at least, I am fingering the knotted braids of wrongs and misunderstandings and hurt that tangled our relationship. I mull over the cliches of “she did the best she could,” “she was only human.” Like many cliches, they are true, but to heal our relationship, I have to venture beyond cliches to forgiveness. Forgiving my mother and forgiving myself for the mistakes and misunderstandings we wove with each other is as difficult as it was for her to get the part between my braids straight and braid my hair tightly enough so my baseball and other activities wouldn’t shake them loose.
For my part, I have to have the courage to progress from timidly fingering the loose strands of hair that had escaped from my braids and trying to rebraid them myself to asking her help to fix them. I have to realize deep in my soul that my mom braided many of her values scattered with love into my hair. Our relationship with God is like that. We routinely ask His forgiveness through our prayers and church services, but we still cling to our tightly braided habits of thoughts and actions without unknotting the details of forgiveness and the part God plays in the process. We say, “I forgive you,” while reweaving our braids with righteous fingers.
Braids turning gray doesn’t happen overnight. True forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without conversations with God and listening to His gentle, persuasive voice and braiding and unbraiding words and attitudes in our hearts and minds.
Ephesians 4:32. King James Version … And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Forty years later and twenty years after my mom’s death, I am far beyond being a teenager and my hair is more gray than blonde.
But guided by God’s loving fingers and braiding, my soul is gradually becoming unbraided. I am proud of you, mom!!