have mercy

I recently read a poetic hypothesis by Anne Porter , suggesting what she might say to our Maker on a day of judgement. It’s in contrast with the image painted for me during my upbringing. And that’s in sharp contrast to John’s belief that St. Peter will greet him at the pearly gates with a balance sheet accounting for all those beers bought for him versus all the beers he bought for others. If the balance is in the black, he’s allowed in; if he’s in the red, well, then he’s in the red.

Being more and more plagued by a lack of confidence in what to believe, I imagine that there are too many possibilities for how I could be judged. Even here on Earth the possibilities are numerous and changing every five minutes or so. Porter’s plea gave me another possibility:

A Plea For Mercy

When I am brought before the Lord

What can I say to him

How plead for mercy?

I’ll say I loved

My husband and the five

Children we had together

Though I was most unworthy

I’ll say I loved

The summer mornings

I loved the way the sun comes up

And sets the dew on fire

I loved the way

The cobwebs shine

On the tall grass

When they are strung with dew

I’ll say I loved

The way that little bird

The titmouse flies

I’ll say I loved

Its lightness


And beauty.

Given this suggestion, I wonder: What would I say? My answer is the result of the tug of war between two sides of the spectrum. I suspect, pulling from the right, would be my tendency to blather on and make things up as I go along. I’d sputter out some kind of panicked reply, the fires of hell licking my feet from below. On the other hand, I could call upon my educator instincts and have prepared for the inevitable and most appropriate means of assessment: a rubric. The trouble is that there seems to be some disagreement regarding what exactly this rubric looks like. I suspect it’s a simple pass/fail evaluation, although there may be a score reserved for purgatory. At any rate, it’s still hard to image (or maybe I’m not committed and faithful enough) exactly what the criteria are for a passing grade. Being kind? Being pious? Being devoted? Being prophetic? I don’t know exactly, and that’s why I imagine that it would go something like this:

First, I’ll start apologizing: I’ll say I’m sorry that I yelled at the dog. And that I lost my temper with the kids. I’ll have to admit that I kicked the dog, but never the kids. I’m sorry that I would even feel the urge to throw something, usually a piece of technology through a window. I’ll say it was wrong for me to use that bookstore gift certificate that I found, knowing it wasn’t really mine, to spend on myself. I should have been more patient; I could have done more to help others; I should have listened better the first time.

And then, because I’m me, because I’m human, I suspect I’ll make excuses. Maybe because of my training in academe, I’ll try to find explanations (just like the “Maybe because of my training in academe” preface to this very sentence) for all of my inadequacies, as though it would help me at this point: The dog wouldn’t listen and was about to get mud all over the house; the kids’ room was such a mess. And I didn’t actually throw anything through a window, so perhaps that counts for something? Patience, helping, and listening — I believe I was getting better at these, slowly. And the gift certificate I spent on two books of poetry, which I suspect You can appreciate.

But if I really had my wits about me — and who’s to know that I would — I might cut myself off and just cut to the important parts. It seems likely that a trap door would fall out from beneath me well before I get to this point, but if I had the chance: I loved the poetry, and I shared it with a friend. I loved how the land I stood on fell out from under the face of Earth that towers above me to the east. I marveled and I laughed and I cried and I was more privileged than I deserved to have the family and friends that I do. And, more than once, I saw a child’s face light up in a smile, and I think it was because of something I did. And maybe that’s the rubric: How many smiles were there trailing behind you? In essence, it’s not any different than John’s hypothesis of the tabulation of beer debt. Either way, I hope I pass, not so much because I understand what I’ll enter into, but because of what I’d leave behind.


4 thoughts on “have mercy

  1. I've been reading sporadically, commenting even less, but know that I'm out here and that this post was lovely.

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