She was screaming at the McDonald’s, and I could hear the shame in her voice so clearly I wanted to crawl into the tunnel of the play place and bury my own head too.
“I want to go home! I just want to go home! Please, please, take me home!” Her mother was ignoring the pleas. (Don’t think for a minute this is some sort of condemnation, three minutes before this story began you could find me telling my 3-year-old, “Fine then! Go up there, but when you start crying, no one is going to come get you!” What exactly were we going to do, abandon her in the plastic maze at the McDonald’s in Corbin Kentucky?)
The screaming girl had been caught bending back the fingers of some other girl she did not know. Her mother had properly scolded her and the girl whose fingers had been bent backward had completely recovered from the situation. But the perpetrator, she was deeply scarred.
“Please, please, can we go home?” Please, please, please take me home!” She knew she shouldn’t have done it. She probably knew while she was doing it. But somehow, she did it anyway. And now, she was simply begging to go home.
And I saw myself in her. In the middle of a McDonald’s in Corbin Kentucky that we stop at every time because it is half way between our house and my in-laws and because it has a big and little slide. I saw the way she was so sad for what she had done. I saw the way she was begging to just go someplace safe. But also, I saw the way in which everyone but her was already over it.
The pain had subsided, the forgiveness was granted. But the girl would not forgive herself. She would not re-engage in the play she had been invited to. She just wanted to run to a safer place. A place where she did not have to look into the face of the one she had hurt. I place where she could see her mess as forgotten, rather than forgiven. Engaging was just too hard.
So often I would rather have forgotten, not forgiven. I want never-happened, so I reject redeemed. Redeemed is too hard. I can pretend I have not messed it up, pretend my sins are forgotten, but to see myself as forgiven, to step into the redeemed. No, that is simply too hard. Take me home. I don’t want to play anymore anyway. Please, just take me home.
I wish I could have taken that wailing girl’s face gently in my hands. I wish I could have looked her in her sad eyes and told her, that she was the only one who had yet to forgive herself, that everyone else had moved on to the fun part. They wanted her to play too. I hope that she learns, to forgive herself, bravely re-engage and find fun and friendship where there was once wailing. I hope she learns that second chances are often given to those who are sorry and trying to do better.
I hope I learn one day too. I see myself in her. Just a girl, sorry for what she has done, too afraid to re-engage, even though she is sorry. I hope I remember in those moments I am terrified, that often I am the last one willing to forgive myself.