“While a surgeon may staunch the flow of blood and suture the wound, the body must heal itself. A multiplicity of cross-linked cell chains must work in concert to seal the site. Failing that, the wound will weep indefinitely.” —A Compendium of Wounds
First, stop waiting for someone else to do it. If, one day, someone does come with the power to heal this monstrous gash, you’ll be asked what you did while you waited. You’ll be asked what you think your purpose here is. You’ll be asked who the hell you think you are.
So this is what you can do. This is what we need from you. This is how you’re going to help heal this wound that’s crisscrossing the body of us:
1) Halt in your throat those words you want to speak right now, words about who is at fault. Those words in your throat are a filthy luxury in this land gone poor and needy. Those words spring from a dark corner of your heart, but they can be a kind of medicine, if only you’ll swallow them down.
2) Start a journal of thanksgiving. Did the water run clean and strong from your faucet again? Did you get distracted while driving and get away with it? Did your child stroke the worry lines on your face as you tucked him in? Keep a record of these gifts. See how your journal fills up. Maybe things aren’t as bad as we thought.
3) But maybe they’re worse. Get a different journal and spill your sins onto its pages. See how this journal, too, fills up. Don’t worry, you don’t have to show anyone. Besides, every sin has a lingering scent. People know more about you than you want to believe they know. Try to count how many people have forgiven the likes of you.
4) Unplug your television, just to remind the both of you who’s boss. Maybe give it a kick for good measure. You don’t have to write that in your sin journal. That one’s on the house.
5) Go outside and find an ant. Follow him on your hands and knees. Witness his determination on his great and perilous journey. No one will celebrate him when he arrives; he’s just doing his job. See how little he cares for affirmation? See how little he cares for you? You could mash him with your thumb. He will never know how close he has come to his end. How often have you been the ant? How often have you mashed the ant beneath your thumb? Perhaps you have more to write in your journals.
6) That neighbor or colleague or kin who votes the wrong way? Tell yourself a story about why. Your story must be free of malice and ignorance. This world is already filled to the brim with cruelty and tragedy. Your story must be a kind one. In it, this person is neither evil nor dumb. This person wants children to grow up healthy and wise. This person wants people to have good work. This person loves his mama. Can you not imagine this about him? Ponder what this means about you.
7) Keep the movie playing when the credits roll. Let them roll and roll. Pause near the end and pick out a random job no one but movie-business people understand. Say the name of the person who did that job. Let it roll off your tongue. Say a small prayer for that person. Nobody is going to remember that the Electrical Intern on the set of Moonrise Kingdom was Magdalena Bermudez today unless you do it. She worked hard, and somebody should remember what she did.
8) Memorize this as a psalm:
I am owed nothing.
I owe everything.
I too shall pass.
9) Ask a child to show you how to do something she knows better than you. Maybe it’s making a weird noise, or playing a made-up game. Maybe it’s being cheerful in the morning. Get down where she is and ask for her help. See how patient she is with you. Resolve to be this patient with everyone who is learning, including yourself. We are all learning or dying. Both demand the patience of others.
10) Be wronged and keep silent. Once a day is a good start. Three hundred million fewer complaints a day would make a real dent in American rage. Twitter might even implode. This would be a good thing.
11) Let someone be wrong and keep quiet about that, too. Whoops, now we’ve deflated Facebook. Look how we’re healing the world, one closed mouth at a time.
12) Start a garden. Just a pepper plant on your windowsill will do. Take care of your little pepper plant. Speak softly to him. It’s hard living on a windowsill, and so your plant may only be able to muster a single pepper for you. Thank your plant for this pepper; he gave you all he had. Draw a picture of the pepper in your thanksgiving journal. Give the pepper to your neighbor.
13) This last one is going to be hard, but look how far you’ve come. Think of someone you hate. Don’t tell yourself some other word applies; the person who came to mind is a person you hate. Now, imagine that a chain shackles him to you. Imagine that you stand together before the gates of Heaven, and you can’t go in without him. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Now plead the case of this person you hate. Beg him into heaven. Save him, if you would be saved. There is no other way.
Tony Woodlief lives and writes in North Carolina. His short fiction has appeared in Image, Ruminate, Saint Katherine Review, and Dappled Things, while his essays about parenthood and faith have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Comment, and The London Times. He runs a website for fathers called Intentional Fathering, and can occasionally be found on Twitter.