September 30, 2015

Searching the Obvious

The intersections, the whirlwinds of unexpected grace blowing through our lives, remind us of something: a task, a conversation, laughter, forgiveness.

. . .

I wait for the elevator. I am in no hurry. Cameras fill the halls, and an officer says people appreciate chaplain visits in this place. I believe the comment is meant to make me feel better, but it does not.

We walk through white painted corridors to a narrow door that delivers a frightening sound as locks are lifted. The officer holds the door open; I step aside as he locks the door. Three doors later we arrive at a small room with a long wooden table, three folding chairs, and a mirror on the wall. The officer tells me he will remain behind the glass. I nod my head as if it would make a difference that I am counting three chairs and the officer is gone. Who else is coming?

I think of the long drive here, the quiet space where forms are filled out to allow a visitor. I am here because 10 years ago this man was my college student, a great writer full of promise.

. . .

The door opens, and a man in chains enters the room. A lawyer is with him. The feeling of space is real, as if the table running between us is a zoning strip where conformity is necessary lest you fall off the edge of the table, forgotten.

The interview was requested by the inmate. The lawyer adds: nobody is listening to our “religious absolving.” What? I am here to listen, not “absolve.” I look at my student; he knows this.

. . .

For two hours I hear him speak of gruesome, proven truths. The files are open. He will move to a different location and appeal the death sentence imposed.

“I can’t believe you came,” he tells me. I hear a crack in his voice. He is wrapped in blankets of shame, uncertainty, and judgment. “Question: how many times can we be forgiven? Here, I have time to think, read, reflect. I wonder if people ever forget the past and start new, like strangers. Really forgive. Even here.”

Is this what you wrestle with in the night? Are you seeking an angel to hold on to before the sun comes up? Have you remembered a long-forgotten promise?

“I made poor choices. It’s like those fancy posters with the ripples. When we throw that pebble, we disrupt the water; nobody is the same. Some people start wrong and keep going. You believed in me, knew the person I wanted to be. Thank you for showing up.”His lawyer knocks on the door for the officer. “I don’t want you to pray with me, but you can pray for me.”

There it is: the intersection, the Holy Spirit’s whirlwind of grace blowing through our lives, reminding us . . .

“Endless,” I say. “Endless forgiveness. It’s never too late. Choose to walk toward Him and with Him.” Our eyes meet, and for the first time he smiles and nods.

He is escorted out; the door remains open. I look at the reflection in the mirror: Endless forgiveness. Endless.

Dixil Rodríguez, a volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.