Lindsay Marcellus ’06, ’15 M.T.S.

I didn’t want to see myself in the character of the unforgiving slave. Yet six months into social isolation with ever-diminishing prospects for even part-time school or childcare, I find myself taking the minor failures of others personally and responding harshly instead of with mercy.

James Keenan, S.J. has defined mercy as “the willingness to enter into the chaos of another, so as to respond to the other.” Rereading this passage as a mother of two who only sometimes successfully navigates childcare, homeschooling, dissertation-writing, and paid work during a pandemic (to say nothing of other important relationships and moral obligations), I can relate to chaos. That experience should help me respond to others with compassion. Yet sometimes I fail to appreciate that others are struggling too, and, like the unforgiving slave, refuse to do what is within my power to help.

It doesn’t have to be this way, even under stress. Just as the unforgiving slave did not criticize the king, we’re much less likely to treat harshly those who are in a position of power or authority over us. Instead, the harshness comes out in how we relate to those whose position is equal to or more vulnerable than our own.

Although much remains outside of my control, this passage challenges me to recognize that I can choose to see and respond to the needs of others. Like the unforgiving slave in the parable, I have a choice. I can choose mercy. Today, when my children make a mess or refuse to cooperate for what feels like the seventy-seventh time, I can react harshly with criticism, or I can acknowledge that they too are experiencing chaos and respond with compassion.

And if I look closer, I can see that the bald spot on the side of my kindergartener’s head has grown— the result of a recently-acquired, nervous hair-twirling habit.

Mercy it is.