"Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!"
-- Lady Macbeth, from Shakespeare's Macbeth
I wish -- though I don't believe in wishes -- that I could take a number two pencil and write down on a blue-lined piece of three-hole-punched notebook paper the moments of my life, label it "draft," study it a bit, and then turn the pencil around to the pink side -- the eraser -- and smudge away forever a line here and there . . . many lines, major smudges. Study it a bit more, swipe away with my hand the little black rubber crumbles, dirty from the mix of pink eraser and pencil lead, onto the floor . . . gone. Erased.
I would take a deep breath, sit back and sigh, copy the remains onto a fresh piece of paper, smooth it out and turn it in . . . to someone. The only copy. Not a draft, but an A-deserving masterpiece. In ink now, my finest handwriting, nothing to erase; no need. I would crumple up the old messy draft, toss it away with no further thought, done, rise, walk.
I wish . . . though I don't believe in wishes.
The truth is, "free will" is more like a Sharpie than a number-two pencil. The use of it leaves permanent marks . . . and often results in a lot of crumbling-up and tossing and shredding instead of erasing. Out, damn'd spot. A part of me would much prefer the sweet smell of a new pink eraser over the black acrid smell of a inky black marker leaving trails and tracks that reflect the staggering stumbles of the exercise of my free will. Can't erase? Reach for the White-Out, which will leave a pasty crumbly mess itself, no match for the thick black markings of me being me . . . showing through.
What would I erase?
Okay . . . well, maybe that's a little too much "self."
How about . . .
Self-reliance? Oops . . . there's that "self" thing again.
What would you erase?
Maybe it would be better to just gently smudge out a moment in time, here and there. Problem is, some of them are so darkly there that the only way to get them out is to rub all the way through the paper, leaving a hole that speaks as clearly as the original deed itself. I've tried. Accepting the fact that I can't erase the deeds of others, I settled for the hope that I could erase my responses to them. Kind of like when you have a long word problem on a math quiz that leaves you stymied and you try this and that . . . erase . . . try again . . . erase. The word problem is still there no matter what you do to the answer.
I wish -- though I don't believe in wishes -- that I could erase the moment that I leaned over to the rolled-down window of a little beige Volkswagen on a foggy campus night in college and accepted a ride out of the drizzle. I would have erased the route to his house and the memory of having been there. Indelible ink.
I would erase the first lie I told. No, not some silly little lie about taking a cookie before dinner, but the first lie I told myself: "this doesn't really matter. I'm not hurting anyone anyway." When you fall for that lie and carry it around inside for a while and find that you can fool yourself into believing it, you start trying it out on others to see if they might fall for it too. Pretty soon, it's you, not a lie. Deception.
If I could not erase the lie, then maybe I could erase the pain that grew from it? The wondering of others pondering the inconsistencies that characterized my character. I became the word problem for which there were no answers and, once they had unsuccessfully figured on it long enough to leave a hole in the page of my life, the hole remains.
I would erase the times I tried to deflect the truth of my actions by pointing a finger someone else, even if . . . no, I'm not going to make any justifications now because that would only leave me with more I would want to erase. Like the time my son confronted me with knowledge he had that I had sinned sexually and I defended myself by pointing a finger at the way he was confronting me with an anger that was totally justified by my mis-behavior and his hurt, disappointment and disgust. As lies do, it made things worse.
After owning up to true accusations by erasing deception . . . I would then erase the moment I failed to act on a false accusation and let my shame and guilt from true things allow false ones to go unanswered, adding layers of thickness and cubits of height to a wall that now seems impenetrable and unclimbable because of a lie, or, more politely put, a false accusation. I've learned now that anytime a false accusation stands, truth suffers and when truth suffers, we all do.
I would erase the times I said "I will not fail again." I know the devil smiled at that one, for though he could not have known for sure that I would fail again, my claims of strength must have redoubled his efforts. How he must love the little word "I." How he must rejoice (does the devil rejoice?) at the longer word "again," when it is part of a vow, no matter how intentionally intended. "I" would smudge out the word "I" and try never to write it again with the word "will." God wills.
I would erase the times I hid my unpleasantness behind my efforts to please. The times I worked harder on looking good than on being good, on doing right instead of being right, on projecting an image instead of revealing a reality.
I would erase the haughtiness with which I approached the earliest offers of help and I would scribble in a "yes . . . I need help," and write in clearest cursive, "thank you."
But instead of an eraser, I have pages and pages of permanent words representing my life ranging from deception to desperation, from putrid prose to pure poetry, from painful falling to joyful soaring, from self . . . there I go again . . . reviling to self-restoring, from quiet hiding to loud revealing, from darkness and heaviness to light and . . . lightness. All there, like a jumble with words out of place, a sentence for which no blackboard is large enough on which to diagram to anyone's specifications. (Like that very sentence.)
Count the "I"s in the lyrics. No wonder we fall so easily to the illusion of life instead of the truth of it. Or at least, "I" do . . . or did. And when we do, we yearn for the eraser as a quick answer to the question, "Why did I do that?" And we walk around in a stupor, wringing our hands and muttering madly, like Lady Macbeth, or woefully taking the stage like Joni and blaming our actions on our inability to get a grasp on . . . life.
There is no eraser, but there is unlimited chalkboard space. Scribble like Einstein to fit your life into a legalism that will fill every inch of writable room and still leave you unfulfilled and scrambling to do more to prove more and say more and be more and prove more, or just accept that you will never make it without one word: grace.
For the things we can't erase . . . there's grace.