Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Don't Cut off Your Nose to Spite Your Face" (without using the actual phrase or litera (02/14/08)
TITLE: Breaking Through Bitterness
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A poisonous stew – anger, hurt, fear – bubbles furiously in Marion’s heart. She wrings her hands as if to somehow push the frantic anxiety out the tips of her fingers, but the kneading only intensifies her anguish. Trapped like an imprisoned wild animal longing for freedom, she paces back and forth through the house – from kitchen to living room to dining room - around and around in circles. Panicked and hopeless, she bows to the Adversary’s ploys: rejection, misunderstanding, and inadequacy.
Her husband, Al, puffs his pipe from the armchair and says nothing – until he’s had enough, that is. “Marion! Can’t you say something? Anything? What is it with this pacing!” He growls fiercely, and his furrowed eyebrows seem ready to pounce at any moment. “You’re driving me absolutely CRAZY!”
Good, she thinks. That’s the point.
In an attempt to punish him for years of perceived negligence, Marion clams up even more. She refuses to speak for hours, then days, and eventually even a full week. He yells obscenities and drives up his blood pressure; she withdraws in stubborn silence and feeds her depression.
They both only make matters worse – for themselves, and for each other.
This pattern becomes a repetitive lifestyle. Both apparently choose to focus more on revenge than reconciliation – only to fine-tune habits that poison their own souls, their relationship, and their impressionable children.
Years later, while standing beside Marion’s casket, Al no longer fusses and fumes with hostile outbursts. His hands clasp quietly before him, and his billed woolen cap creeps down to almost cover those bushy eyebrows. A broken and regretful old man, he stares with a blank gaze at his feet.
Now he is the silent one.
His daughter, Paige, wishes she could tell him what she learned by watching her parents spite each other; how she struggles with bitterness. But that would not be appropriate, she reasons. What’s done is done. What’s over is over.
There’s nothing to say. And yet honestly there’s much to say - all those words that her mother never said, and more! There is much to recover, to understand, to heal! Is it too late? She glances at her father and sighs. It appears so.
“Pop, is there anything you want to say?”
Al looks up vacantly. “She was quite a creative woman – more than anyone here knows.”
Where did THAT come from, Paige wonders? His first ever, positive public comment about my mother?
The simple wooden casket is lowered into the ground, and the onlookers leave, carrying roses: perishable memorabilia destined to fade within days. Paige also takes with her the lasting memory of a woman she wanted to love, but could never quite touch; a woman caged by lonely desperation and bent on self-destruction.
A few years later Paige stands beside Al’s bedside in a nursing home, longing for her own evasive healing. She has prayed for the Lord to intervene; to break through; to transform and restore her heart. She does not want to repeat her parents’ legacy!
For the first time in his life, Al purposefully reaches an age-spotted hand upward toward Paige’s, which rests atop the stainless steel bed rail. Miraculously, their fingers clasp, and remain entwined for the next twenty minutes of silence. Rather than anger, Al initiates only a childlike desire to be close.
Although nothing is said, their hearts merge, peaceful and content. The essence of hope and love mysteriously passes through their hands.
When it is time for Paige to leave, Al barely turns his head and looks into her face with the clear eyes of one desperate for heart-level connection – and yet he still does not know how to accomplish it. “Be good and be careful, Little Sis.” That’s what he told her sometimes when she was teenager, leaving the house to be with friends.
Al returns to his previous position on the pillow and stares at the squares on ceiling. This will become Paige’s final memory of him on earth: white sheet pulled high beneath his white chin, white stringy hair puffed atop a white pillow, grey eyes staring blankly at a white ceiling … and silence.
That afternoon she receives a phone call: her father is gone. She wonders what he thought in their last moment together, and if he also knew a measure of peace.
She will decide to honor their memory. The legacy of her parents’ stew of bitterness will evaporate at last in the face of the Healer’s antidote: forgiveness.
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