I scramble down the trail to the ravine, feet sliding on loose rocks, camera balanced on one hip. When I catch my breath, I look up to see what I’ve come for: the river, twisting green in the sun.
This is the place I come to when I need to think about the Past — need the sensation of something rushing away, disappearing around a bend. Today, though, as I leap across a line of boulders near the river’s edge, the Past just won’t recede. A quiet hurt still lingers — as if dirty water washed over me and left a residue — and I can’t seem to scrub it from the gray matter.
Oh, mercy, I whisper:
Sometimes it seems like the only prayer I know.
It would be an easy mistake, whether you know me by my words or in everyday life, to misread my gentleness as a deeper form of goodness. To see me as the most shiny and unblemished sort of saint: sweet-faced. Sweet-voiced. White-frocked, well-dressed — eternally clean.
People make this mistake all the time.
But the truth is, if I’m a saint, I’m one with skinned knees and a dented halo — a sinner, stumbling drunkenly toward some holy glow. I’m a complicated creature, drawn toward complicated situations, with a penchant for getting lost … and when the Maker knit me together in my mother’s womb, he gave me the blessing and curse of a wandering heart and a ravenous mind.
Thank Heaven, he also made me a mouth to cry for mercy.
So I stand on the river’s edge, praying and shooting: white water, muscling through rapids. The light shattered like a mirror on the rocks.
Don’t let all this beauty fool you, I think. This is a dangerous place. Hikers have been swept to their deaths here, and the rangers have posted signs telling me so.
But my stubborn heart never could heed a warning. And besides: any place you go to hurl the hurt away from you is a place where you might be dragged under with it, if you don’t know when to let go.
On this day, the mercy comes as a flash of light at my feet. I look down and see where the river has pooled in the boulders. The pools have polished the stone smooth, and the water within is skinned with green moss.
I drop to my knees and adjust the lens. And I understand then, with this palmful of water in my viewfinder, that there are places in the heart where the past can get caught — where the hurt forms a pool. And who knows, then, how long it takes for such a wound to heal? For a hollow of water to evaporate into sky??
But. Even a moss-clouded pool reflects the sun, however faintly:
Even a scar is a wound that has healed, in its way…
I leap from the rocks to the sand. Walk toward where the river curves in a calmer stretch. My eyes hunt through the wreckage of old floods: bottles and broken glass. Tires. Twisted tree limbs.
And I’ll tell you: there is beauty everywhere, if you know how to look. If you have eyes trained by mercy.
I stand very still. I am waiting, I guess, for the sun to make its way down into these small pools. To turn them into flame.
I breathe — breathe — my fingertip tingling against the shutter button.
I’ll tell you a secret that every good sinner knows: