I was a picky eater as a child, and I hated coconut.
But one time, my sister and I were out to dinner at Russ’ with Grandpa and Grandma K., and they asked us, as grandparent’s often do, if we would like dessert.
Correction: if we would like to split dessert.
My grandma handed us the menu, and my sister pointed at the coconut cream pie. I pointed at the chocolate fudge brownie (with a cherry on top), but my grandma and sister insisted that I might like coconut cream pie even if I didn’t like coconut, and I was the younger child, lulled by the wisdom of the ages, so I relented. We could order the coconut cream pie.
I tried it.
It came back up.
My sister didn’t have to split anything.
* * *
I remember the coconut cream pie incident as I remember so many others with my mother’s parents. My sister and I, the only grandchildren on the one-child K. side, were treated as equals most of the time. My sister and I shared bags of stale bread during our duck-pond excursions, and we slurped Burger King shakes side-by-side in the back of my grandpa’s truck. And, although I was at first confused that my sister got a card on my birthday, my mother explained to me that it was a Valentine’s Day card (and I got one too).
But there were moments when I knew. When I compared the lyrical ballads on my sister’s cards to my one-liner Hallmark moments. When my sister got more cash for her good grades. When I heard wind of this phone conversation:
Grandma K.: How’s my favorite granddaughter?
Sister: (Laughs.) Don’t tell Cassie.
Grandma K.: Cassie is hard to talk to.
But I can laugh at these moments now. Well, kind of. I half-laugh, half-wince because I know that, for years and years, I blamed my grandparents’ blatant favoritism for several of my tragic flaws.
But the thing is, we are human, and no matter how hard we try, we will hurt. We will be the subject of hurt; we will be the object of hurt. More than once. More than twice. More times than we can count on all of our fingers and toes. It’s an occupational hazard of our species. And yet, when we fail to be our best to those we love and those we hardly know, I find it difficult to believe that it’s how we hurt people or how we’ve been hurt that defines us. I think what defines us is how we respond to that hurt.
If we look at the world in black and white, we might say there are two kinds of people: those who are better at asking for forgiveness, and those who are better at forgiving.
Personally, I have a nasty habit of holding grudges in deeply-set wounds.
In the days of elementary Sunday school, when we covered the passage when Peter asks Jesus how often we should forgive someone, and Jesus tells us to forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times, I always thought Jesus was telling us to literally have this conversation…
Cassie: I’m sorry I knocked over your block tower.
Block Boy: I guess I forgive you for knocking over my block tower.
…seventy some seven times.
But now that I’m older, and now that Sunday school teachers aren’t making anyone apologize or accept apologies, and when it comes to the things that hurt most, I start to wonder whether Jesus was predicting that we’ll need to forgive someone more than once for hurting us.
Just as there’s a sanctification process within salvation, perhaps there’s a continuing process of forgiveness. We forgive someone a first time, but when a word or a gesture or a family holiday dinner stirs our memory, and we feel that sinking, sharp pain in our chest, we have to forgive again.
And again. And again. And again.
And maybe in that forgiveness is the grace of the memories that have been buried or bruised. Memories of stale bread at ponds, of drive-thru shakes, of Valentine’s Day cards, of a chocolate fudge brownie (with a cherry on top) to soothe a stomach upset by coconut cream pie.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.