… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.
-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness
He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake. Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had and I wish I hadn’t and if only. The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission. In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting — though the hold it has on us dissipates. It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”
One by one, the congregants rise. Does music play? It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory. Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies. We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.
At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies. Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel. Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth. The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light. As we watch it go, each of us says these words:
“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”
We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started. Something is changed, though. The path feels emptied somehow. The rows of seats, more capacious.
I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space. Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts. We recognize the damage we have certainly caused. We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.
Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.
For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.
We begin again, together, in love.
Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970