It’s Ash Wednesday, and I feel penitent.
LP always says I don’t know the real meanings of words I use; sometimes it’s true. I puzzled them out, years ago, in books I read before I was ready for them. I drew conclusions from context, not realizing that meaning shapes context rather than the other way around.
She sends me to the dictionary, the way my father did.
Penitent: “feeling or expressing humble or regretful pain or sorrow for sins or offenses.”
Yes, that’s it.
This morning in the midst of a conversation about college financial aid, my first ex-husband told me that my second ex-husband is engaged. It seems his hairdresser is the friend of a friend of the bride-to-be. I am not excited about the clear implication that my complicated life is the subject of a hairdresser’s gossip, but that’s a small sin compared to mine.
There are four, at least, and they feel large, and I am humbly regretful.
First, I did not heed the messenger. My second ex-husband’s first wife brought me a warning about his proclivities, but I did not want to believe her. Such a risk she took! She tried to give a sister a break, but this sister would not listen. My longing to be affirmed as safely straight depended on his attention. I would not walk away.
Second, I did not read the signs. I saw the family and personal history, and yet I willfully ignored the unexplained absences, the strange phone calls, the aggressive resistance to sharing financial information and, on the occasion I came closest to recognizing the truth, the pattern of large cash withdrawals at the same time he claimed poverty. I did not use the sense God gave me to solve a fairly easy puzzle, because solving that one might have led to solving my own.
Third, I did not plant the seed of truth. When the opportunity presented itself to meet the new girlfriend, I declined. I did not offer the warning. I have begged him not to do the same thing again to another nice woman, but when a person has convinced himself his lies are truth, he cannot see the difference unless he really wants to change.
Fourth, I did not lead from faith. I led my life in fear, and if I know the truth of what I wrote about him it’s because I lived a storybook fib myself.
I repent of these things on this Ash Wednesday.
Recently I met a pastor from Georgia who came out after many years of marriage; he is the father of many children. His story is one big mess of rising out of the ashes of drug use and homelessness to lead a church again and reconcile with some of his family.
When I consider the ways things might have gone more wrong, I thank God. The standards I learned as a young person did not condemn gay people, but divorce was as bad an idea to me as being gay and using drugs was to my friend from Georgia. My ashes look tidier from the outside, but I am still smudged.