Taking the High Road!
Because of time constraints, I had emphasized, "love first and justice second" as a quick formula but I had no time to explore the complexity of that concept or any other processes.
What I hadn't addressed was the advantages of lifestyle forgiveness even in working out relational issues.
I remember the duress I felt after the arrest wondering how one does work out the relational issues with a murderer. How does one forgive a murderer?
I could think of only one person who would know what I was facing.
It was my grandmother. Yet she had already passed.
However, I did feel her presence because by this time, I had started to write a novel, The Path of the Heart, which is really about how to "listen" using my grandmother as a model, so I was feeling close to her.
One day - I simply asked her. I asked her presence.
It was a remarkable experience - without making too much of it - I just want to say that using a "writer's imagination" I was able to step into her character and asked her the question.
, I ask it in the form of a question coming from a young boy facing a bully.
Here is the chapter which took on a life of its own. I had a hard time keeping up with my typing as the story unfolded. I was very surprised from the moment she stood up in the story. I had no idea what she was going to do.
This story take place when I am about five years old -- adoring my grandmother who actually saw an angel. I thought her amazing.
Here is the story.
Then my grandmother sat looking at him for a long time. Finally she said, “You have just given me the hardest question of all time.”
David did not flinch under her gaze but met her eyes with his.
“Do you want to take the easy way or the hard way?” grandmother asked.
“I want to do this the right way, and I will do it that way, no matter how hard it is.”
“I have your commitment?”
Grandmother smiled. She seemed so pleased. “You are brave.”
He didn’t look brave to me, only desperate.
Then grandmother stood up. “Put on your jacket. We’re going for a walk.”
He picked up his jacket. I reached for mine. Grandmother noticed me take my jacket and hesitated. “I’m not sure you should go,” she said. “We are going on a difficult hike.”
I couldn’t believe she was saying those words, excluding me. “I’m coming,” I said, pulling on my woolen cap. There was nothing that was going to keep me out of this conversation.
Grandmother and I looked hard and long at each other. Then she shrugged and put on her own long, black coat with the fur collar. “Follow me,” she said, wrapping her scarf around her neck as she brushed past both of us and slipped into her boots at the door.
David looked at me quizzically. I shrugged and followed my grandmother. She was walking quickly down the back stairs; I had to run to keep up with her. I knew it was grandmother’s test; she was trying to discourage me, but I wasn’t about to be left behind.
The snow was now sticking to the ground as we passed through the garden. There was already a thin blanket in the pastures where the cows, standing miserably, watched us pass.
At one point David passed me, muttering something about me being slow, so that he could walk behind my grandmother. He didn’t find it difficult to keep up, but I certainly was having a hard time. I was trying to step in grandmother’s footprints, but her stride was too long for my short legs. I was hopping and running and slipping and sliding, but somehow I was managing to keep up with them.
Reaching the edge of the fields, we passed into the forest where the trees stood so closely together they blocked the snow. Grandmother turned around, looked at me, heaved a sigh of resignation, and then walked more slowly. It seemed I had passed some kind of test.
The forest was quiet and damp, and the moss beneath our feet felt like plush carpet. Grandmother seemed not to notice any of it as we continued to walk along the barely visible path. We walked and walked, and the plush carpet that had seemed so soft at first became deeper and deeper. Soon it was as if we were wading through water. It was tiring.
“Please, can’t we rest for a while?” I panted. This would the perfect place—sheltered and quiet. I saw a stump that would have made the perfect chair.
Grandmother paused and glanced back. I noticed there was a new look in her eyes that was difficult to identify. It was a determined look that was hard and soft at the same time.
“No, we must climb quickly. It is a dangerous thing to acquire an enemy!”
Acquire an enemy? What did that have to do with me? Climb quickly? Were we going to climb a mountain in the dead of winter? I looked at David. He shrugged and turned to follow grandmother.
It was almost as if she had become another person, saying things someone else had told her before. She seemed possessed. I didn’t know this grandmother, but that made it even more curious and important. I trudged on.
After a while, I noticed that David was falling further behind my grandmother too. He looked tired.
“I left my enemy in the marketplace,” he said. “He won’t follow us here.”
“Oh, no,” said grandmother, picking up the pace. “Your enemy pursues you.”
I protested. “It can’t be that bad. He just beats David and calls him names.” In spite of the winter cold, I was feeling the prickly warmth of perspiration underneath my heavy jacket.
Grandmother did not turn around. “It’s not only the enemy who destroys your body you should fear, but the one who can eat at your soul.” She was quoting someone. I was sure of it now. None of this made any sense to me.
Soon after, we began to climb. I could feel it in my legs. The flat forest bed had become a hill that was getting steeper with each step. My legs were starting to quiver. I pushed myself to continue. I had no choice.
We eventually came to a clearing in the woods that opened onto a protruding rock, a perfect platform. Suddenly it was evident exactly how high we had climbed. The clouds had lifted and we could see miles and miles of forest, with our village lying at the edge in the distance.
“We can rest now,” grandmother said, “for a moment.”
I dropped, right then and there, plopped down on a log, and sat panting, feeling the winter breeze fanning my red cheeks.
“It is beautiful,” grandmother said. I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. It was dismal. The gray clouds were hanging low, full of snow, just waiting to dump their contents a second time. Everything looked ugly. The evergreens were more black than green. The other trees were bare. Even our lovely village from this perspective and in this light looked like a collection of gray and unattractive buildings.
But grandmother seemed renewed, standing straight and tall in her black coat. Her thick, white hair was undone, falling in strands down her back, almost to her waist. Her eyes were shining. I had never seen her like this—strong and almost young again. I would never have believed her capable of trudging up a mountain; yet here she was, doing it effortlessly, not winded in the slightest. I remembered that she and grandfather often talked about climbing; it was something they did.
“How will climbing up here help me deal with my enemy?” David asked, sitting beside me. “I don’t understand this at all.”
“It will help you turn the other cheek,” grandmother said.
“Turn the other cheek?” David sputtered. “Why should I? He isn’t here now.”
“He can’t hurt me now.”
“Precisely.” Grandmother turned to us, her eyes dark. “Precisely. He can’t hurt you now, because you have changed the situation. And even if he had followed you to this place, something also would have changed. When you attract an enemy, you cannot remain in the same place. You must move to higher ground, quickly. You must grow.”
David nodded as if he understood. I certainly didn’t. Grandmother was becoming annoying.
“What do you see?” she asked me.
I didn’t want to tell her. An ugly village, dreary cloud covering, trees with bare branches, shadows, and the threat of more snow. I lied. “It looks like a Christmas card.”
Grandmother laughed. Then we fell silent, watching a black raven soaring through the air.
“It is never a waste,” she said, “to be forced to move beyond our comfort. It is always good for the body and soul to climb.”
“I guess we should go back down now,” David said.
“We’re not there yet,” grandmother said. She turned and began to walk again, this time in the direction of a far trail that led away from the trees and up the face of the mountain, a steep cliff.
“Why the hurry?” I complained, but then followed reluctantly. I was also a little worried. How was I going to climb a cliff?
“We are out of the physical reach of the enemy, but he remains with us.”
Grandmother found a path somewhere behind the cliff, but it was a narrow, treacherous trail. It took all our concentration now not to slip on the tiny patches of snow that covered the rocks. I kept thinking that the next step would be impossible, but we continued to find footholds. Step by step I forced myself to continue.
At one point David took a wrong step and began to slip on a piece of ice. He grabbed a tree root and hung on, his foot swinging in mid-air. Although it wasn’t far to fall, and his fall would have been cushioned, it was still steep enough to make us all anxious.
Grandmother leaned over and coaxed him until his errant foot found a safe place to step. Then she let him pass and guided me through the dangerous passage.
When we were all safe, she looked at David. “When you slipped, did you feel the fear?”
David shook his head. “I wasn’t afraid.”
Grandmother smiled. “I saw the fear, David, on your face. It is not a sign of weakness to feel fear. It is what you do with it. You did the right thing by hanging on, not panicking and waiting. But I want you to remember that fear.”
“It is the same fear that drives your enemy?”
David looked puzzled. Leaning against the rock, he was quiet as he looked down the side of the cliff. “I see no fear in his eyes.”
“Have you ever looked for it?”
David shook his head.
“Fear drives everything. Next time look for it.”
I was exhausted. Why had I bothered to come along? This was his lesson to learn. I didn’t have enemies or people who hurt me.
“We must hurry,” grandmother said. “We can’t linger. The day is starting to end. We don’t want to be caught here, and it’s not too far to the summit.”
“Summit?” I groaned. My legs were weak, trembling. I really didn’t know if I could continue. Grandmother must have sensed this because she let David take the lead, and she took my hand, helping me.
“What is a summit, Grandmother?” I asked.
“The very top of the mountain,” grandmother answered.
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. We were going to the top of the mountain, and I had to go along because there was no way now that I would be able to find my way back. I was committed. My heart sank.
It took forever. I ached all over as I hung onto grandmother’s hand and kept pushing my legs to keep walking, keep trying. Sometimes I felt suspended in the air as she half carried me. When we finally reached the summit, the air was noticeably thinner, and the breeze was cold. Grandmother sat on a rock that looked like a chair and sighed deeply.
“We have finally arrived,” she declared. “It is truly a beautiful thing to reach the top of a mountain. It is always an achievement.”
David and I sat down beside her. I was too numb even to be tired. I felt nothing. I looked at my grandmother. Her cheeks were a little pink, but other than that she looked no different from the woman who spent her days puttering around the house. How could I, still a child, an elderly woman, and a wounded boy find ourselves on top of a mountain? How had we done it?
Now the scene that lay before us was exhilarating. In the west the clouds had opened up and the sun was beginning to set. The dark and light forest patches were bathed in a hint of mauve. The village looked like a Monopoly board with its tiny houses.
David nodded, surveying the view.
“Wow! We really climbed high,” he said breathlessly.
“Do you feel your enemy?” grandmother asked in a flat tone.
David looked puzzled. “Feel my enemy? No. He is far below us—in the valley.”
“Do you want to talk about your enemy?”
“No.” David glanced at her, and then shook his head. “It’s not important anymore. He doesn’t exist up here.”
Grandmother nodded. “A climb up a mountain changes the perspective on everything. You’ve gained a new sense of strength, and it will remain with you,” she said slowly. I still felt she was quoting someone.
David looked at her, his eyes filled with questions, this time not about the bully in the street, but about grandmother. I think he too was amazed with her strength and will.
Then grandmother turned toward the scene in front of us, smiling, oblivious to us. She was gazing at the sky, her eyes following the movement of the clouds.
“This is what we do when we are hurt by someone else. When we encounter an enemy, we need to quickly climb a mountain. Any mountain. It might be a spiritual mountain or an emotional one or a real one like we did today. It is imperative that we climb away from the reach of their poison, their destructive force in our life. Remember, it is always a dangerous thing to acquire an enemy, for they can destroy.”
I knew she was quoting again. There was urgency in her voice, directed at some obscure audience, as she continued. “You must climb until none of it matters to you anymore. You must climb until your life has been separated from the hatred, the grief, the feelings of defeat that come from meeting an enemy. You must climb until your soul has been purified in the thin air and your climbing efforts have been rewarded.”
Even though I was young, I sensed that all these reflections must have come from something in her own life. “Who,” I asked her simply, “was your enemy?”
Grandmother paused. Her eyes darted between David and me, studying us, probably assessing. Were we tired, were we all right, were we learning?
“Those who stole our land,” she said in a flat, low voice I had never heard before. It was filled with emotion. “It is very difficult not to be filled with hate when someone has taken everything you have.”
David shook his head. “Why should I be forced to do all this work? I was the one who was being beaten. Shouldn’t the enemy be forced to leave? He should be forced to climb the mountain, not me.”
Grandmother nodded. “You are right. But if he doesn’t, do you have a choice?”
We fell silent. I wasn’t certain of the answer, and apparently neither was David. Not yet.
David threw a rock out into space. We watched it sail straight into the air, arc, then fall into a cloud and disappear. Moments later we heard the stone hit another rock and rebound, twice.
“You come here often?” David asked my grandmother.
“I used to. I have come here many times. Not so much lately. But in my mind’s eye, some days I climb this mountain seventy times seven. And each time I come, I stop here and am filled with the joy of the mountaintop. Here I can say that it is truly a blessed thing to acquire an enemy. Without conflict, without pain, I wouldn’t be forced to come here.”
She then went on and on about how important it is to grow, to become strong, and not to succumb to the larger enemy of hate and bitterness. A lot of it went right over my head, and I think most of it didn’t register with David either. But we didn’t care. As long as she was talking to her imaginary audience, we didn’t have to move.
I leaned back and closed my eyes. I think I might have even slept a little. When I opened my eyes again, I thought of angels. Surely they were here at the mountaintop so close to their heavenly home, but I didn’t see any. There weren’t even any clouds that resembled an angel.
On the way home, both grandmother and David had to help me a lot. I was so tired. But somehow we made it down the mountain. The long climb up seemed to have been cut in half. It felt as if we were back home in a matter of minutes.
Once in the house we took off our coats in silence. The moment was truly over, and now at the end of it I gained an appreciation of what we had done together. I was beginning to like David, and he seemed to accept me in a new way. Grandmother went to get us milk and cookies.
“Why did you come here?” I asked him as we sat down opposite each other at the dining room table.
“Your grandmother knows things.”
“How did you know about my grandmother?”
He shrugged his shoulder. “Everyone knows.”
“That your grandmother knows things. Like today, she knew what to do.”
Just then grandmother came in. And then we talked about it all again, and again, the long hike, the exhilaration of reaching the summit. David kept chuckling and laughing.
It all felt good—the cookies, the milk, the laughing, and David with his crinkled, blue eyes, his red hair, his freckles, looking a little like a clown with a white milk moustache.
Grandmother smiled. “There is laughter after forgiveness,” she said. “In hindsight, all our conflicts will look foolish if we climb our mountain.”
Then David became still. And we sat in a long silence, remembering all of it again in a new, peaceful quietness.
As I read through this story, I can see how it impacted me. Even while anticipating the Supreme Court of Canada, it took a masters, Executive Coaching course at Royal Roads University. It really was a educational, stretching, exhausting, challenging mountain! It was the best thing I ever did. My grandmother was so wise!
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” ― John Muir,