Justice is a sword. I have skated along its razor's edge, graceful pirouettes on bloodied feet. Justice works that way-- delicate, exacting, with no give or sway. Mercy is not its opposite. They are twin sides of the same coin. If Justice is hard and uncompromising, Mercy is grace, unlooked for, a gift.
A story about Mercy.
I visited my cousin Larry (z"l) when he lay in the hospital, recovering from brain surgery. He had a brain tumor. It was slowly killing him. It was as if he was on the losing side of a war of attrition: with lightening strike precision, the tumor took away everything meaningful, all the parts of his life and his soul that made him him. If it was painful for us, the people who loved him, to watch, what must it have been like for him, to see everything slip away and be powerless to save anything?
There were complications with his last surgery. How could there not be? He had been engaged in battle for twenty long and hard years. He was tired. His body was exhausted. His soul was stretched thin. The doctors induced a coma, in hopes this his body would repair itself, that he would find rest and healing. It was a lovely hope.
They forgot to tell his pain their plan.
Even in a coma, pain ravaged his body. I watched the pain spasm throughout his body, making him writhe. When the spasm passed, he still moved restlessly, unable to find a place where the pain didn't live in him.
My uncle, his father, sat beside him, watching. A completely different flavor of powerless, and just as cruel. He watched his son; I watched my uncle. He felt every bit of Larry's pain. I saw it in his face, in the tension of his body that seemed to echo each spasm. I knew he would take Larry's pain away if he could, take it into himself if he could, if it would give Larry any respite.
The machines whirred in steady rhythm, a strange harmony to Larry's fitful moans. My uncle sat, in an unmoving vigil, a witness. Willing. Watching. Perhaps praying, perhaps cursing. Probably a little of both. Time stretched. It slowed; it may have stopped at one point.
Finally, my uncle shifted. He reached out his hand to touch Larry-- soothe him, comfort him, connect in a very real and visceral way. Helplessly hoping-- no harlequin romance, but his motion-- focused, slow, gentle -- his whole body was a prayer.
And he couldn't. He couldn't touch his son, stroke his son's fevered skin. He was terrified that he would cause more pain. But his prayer was in motion already. Raw and naked and filled with absolute love, his body was a prayer.
So he lifted his hand and held it, closerthanbreath away from his son, an almost-touch. He held out his hand, afraid, desperate, his sorrow and love so present in that darkened room.
Grace then. A gift. Mercy.
He held out his hand, an aching, almost touch, caressing the space closerthanthis away from his son's body , and Larry stilled. His restless, pain-wracked body quieted. My uncle held out his hand, a prayer, a benediction, a blessing. Love. it was all he had to offer. It was enough. Mercy could not bring healing, but there was comfort there, there was rest there. There was love and there was God.
And that was enough.