Friday, June 29, 2007

Repenting for past sins

Most 12 step programs require that the member try to make amends or set things right with anyone they have injured. Are we as humans under a moral or spiritual obligation to right whatever wrongs we can in our lives? And, if so then just how far are we expected to go? When is the debt satisfied?

Why do I ask? Well that requires a story.

In the neighborhood diner where I regularly eat, I often see this very cute older couple. The woman is in a wheelchair and has apparently had a stroke and is unable to walk and only has use of one arm and her speech has a lisp. It is pretty obvious that the man dotes on her and takes great pains to care for her. She is always very well dressed in coordinated outfits and even has on earrings and a brooch or necklace, there is always a small handbag looped over the back of her chair and it always matches the shoes she wears etc. It is very apparent that someone is taking more then the customary care you would expect for someone so disabled. I have always admired the way the man talks to her and cares for her and wondered how many years they have been married, and thought about the kind of love it takes to be that nurturing and loving for so many years. More then once I have said to myself......Boy, I wish I could find someone that would want to care for me like that in my old age, regardless of what my infirmities might be.

One day when going to the diner for dinner, I happen to park in the spot directly in front of a mini van and notice this man get out and head to the passenger side cargo door, I then saw the woman sitting in her chair in the back of the van. The van did not have an electric chair lift and so I sat in my car and watched as this man spent a great deal of time and effort unloading and align ramps and struggled to wheel the woman and her chair out of the van, then replace everything and lock up the vehicle. Inside, I watched him separate her chicken from the bones and cut everything into tiny pieces and serve her; and, the whole time I was thinking about the other struggles this man must face on a daily bases to care for his wife, and wondered how long he has cared for her and much longer he would have the physical strength and emotional stamina to continue.

One morning I happen to get the chance to leave work early so I decided to attend the early mass at my church. I was early and found the church doors were still locked. As I was waiting on the steps for the doors to be opened the man from the restaurant came and joined me and we started to talk. I started to tell him how much I admired him and his care and dedication to his wife and he stopped me and told me this story. He said:

“Arleen and I are not married. Oh, we were once a very long time ago, and we have three children together. But, I was a first class bastard and I mistreated her and the children terribly. I was quite a charmer in those days and I knew it and I had an ego to match, so I was never faithful to her. I also had a serious alcohol problem and I would often come home drunk and take it our on her and the boys. I put them all through hell, until the day I just walked away and never looked back. I have no idea how she managed for so many years to raise and support our boys alone, but, she did a wonderful job.”

“I have to admit that I was hell on wheels for many years; I tramped all over the world doing as I pleased and living the party life. Somehow, I still managed to start my own business; a small but successful import/export company. Oh, I finally got sober, remarried and had a second family but I never told them about Arleen and the boys, and I never tried to contact them, and over the years it began to nag at me. Finally, after my second wife died I decided it was time to face my past and began to look for my first family. Arleen had taken the children and moved from the coast, back to the St. Louis area to be closer to her family and eventually remarried and settled here. By the time I found her she was widowed and had just had a debilitating stroke and was living in a convalescent home. My sons were scattered across the country struggling with how to best care for their Mother, and as you can imagine, they wanted no part of me. Well, to make a long story short I felt I owed it to all of them to do what I could to help as a way of making things right for my past mistakes, and I felt the God was telling me that I needed to take on Arleen’s care as my penance for my sins against her and my sons. So that is how Arleen came to be in my care.”

This mans actions are very admirable and I applaud him for them. But, I would not consider his actions to be the norm, and it brings me back to my original question. Just how far would you go to make amends, or repent for the sins of your past?

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