Monday morning, feeding the outside cats a paltry bit of canned cat food as an act of relationship maintenance, I experienced a moment of mercy. Mentally I was explaining to a friend why I indulge in this—the canned cat food, keeping cats at all, feeding the feline neighborhood—when a memory arrived of the first woman in public life I ever admired. “If Jane Goodall can give up husband, homeland, safety and security to learn enough about our nearest animal ancestors to enlighten any of us who want to learn about ourselves,” I said to my imaginary friend, “I can do this.” Immediately I was healed of the sores of self-criticism as well as all the snide remarks about cat women I often hear floating through conversations at will.
I don’t know anyone now who says “mercy me,” but I’m thinking about taking it up. I hear it in my head as an old-fashioned expression of astonishment over things good or bad, a phrase more likely to be used by women than men, somehow Midwestern in origin, Christian-based. Modest, somehow. Expressing a balance between light and dark, keeping the light present and in hearing range.
Friday I was in the Lindsay Public Library returning some overdue books, and I felt like wandering the shelves for a moment. Wedged in the front of a low row of spiritual books, half hidden by the frame of the bookshelf, I found a newer book by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (2017). It was small, perfect for reading over the weekend, which is what I did. The book is beautiful, brief yet expansive as only Anne can do with her verbal arm waving. I grew in faith as I read it, faith that there is something else in this world besides our seemingly necessary drives to hate and kill.
Her main claim in the book, I think, is that we are born merciful, open to the channel through which life miraculously is given and miraculously continues despite human intervention, but that at some point most of us get talked out of the idea. Mercy will and does revisit us, whether or not we are open to it. The challenge in life is to reclaim that original state of openness, she says, and provides several lovely examples from her own life as she grows back into it herself. “Except as you be like little children,” she quotes Scripture meaningfully, and a bunch of other fantastic writings.
Near the book’s end is the story of her experience getting sober thirty years before, and the arrival of her AA sponsor to help her do that. That story itself is beautiful, and anyone who wants to learn how AA works (when it does) will find the pearl in that oyster. She also tells how finding her little church, even while still a drunk, made all the difference. I love it that in Anne’s life the two went hand in hand, a story about mercy that both AA and churches might benefit from reading.
Sunday night I went online to check the news. The first headline to appear on my screen was about Russian bombing of Kyiv, resumed, supposedly, to remind us that the Ukrainians are still totally vulnerable despite Russian frustrations overtaking the eastern part of the country. The next headline was about mass shootings in this country over the weekend, killing a total of twelve in four different cities. It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps these two phenomena are related: perhaps our surge in gun violence is being triggered by the war abroad, exciting jealousies of wanna-be soldiers without tanks and rockets, only AR-15s.
“Mercy me,” I found myself saying at the realization. Practicing mercy in our own lives, toward our own selves in particular, as well as toward those who’ve lost their way, may be the only antidote to the self-annihilation-writ-large currently underway.
Trudy Wischemann is a neophyte writer who feeds cats in Lindsay. You can send her your violence antidotes or mercy practices c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.