Then, at a place in the shadow with the dew...
my master placed the palms of both his hands,
spread wide, likely and gently on the tender grass.
And I aware of what his purpose was,
offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch.
At which, he made once more entirely clean
the colour that the dark of hell had hidden.
As Malcolm writes in his commentary, it is a very touching scene. Dante emerges into the sunlight with a face smeared with the grime of hell and stained with tears. Virgil, his companion on the journey, gathers up the morning dew in his palms, stoops down and washes Dante’s face.
I was reading it at lunchtime, over my cheese and piccalilli sandwich. I thought of the “morning dew” of all the truth I glean in my quiet times. What did I do with it? Did I wash anyone’s tear-stained face? Did I wipe away the grime of hell? Did I refresh anyone with my words? I have to own up – no. Quite the contrary, I think.
I’d been thinking earlier on in the week when, in an earlier part of the poem, Dante and Virgil began their journey together, that I don’t share my journey often enough. I am rather too self-sufficient. I wondered if I knew anyone well enough for them to see my grime of hell and my tear-stained face to know that I was need of a palm of morning dew to wipe it clean. Yes, Jesus stoops down to wash my face – but what about people?
Then Sunday happened.
I don’t do Mothers’ Day well. It is a celebration of all that I am not. I know there are plenty of messages out there that tell everyone to remember the women without children. We all mother someone, blood related or not. For the most part I get through the day.
Yesterday was not a day I got through. It has been a while since I have done Mothers’ Day so badly. I did it badly yesterday. The rewind button on the memory was stuck on failed fertility treatments and miscarriages and the misery that was then. I felt distinctly “less than”. I normally head myself off at the pass long before I reach the cliff edge – but yesterday I sailed over it. Partly it was mothers being rewarded with little chocolate hearts. Partly is was people offering sympathy – giving me the excuse to bawl my eyes out.
But then the Vergil/Dante/palm of morning dew moment happened.
I seriously wanted to lock myself in the ladies room. On my own I planned to pull myself together and plant a brave smile on my face. Two friends followed me and wrapped themselves around me long before I made it to the ladies. I wasn’t permitted to pull myself together, but to fall apart secure in the knowledge that they held me and supported me. They prayed. They shared their own stories of sad losses. I would never have known that they really did know how I felt because they had been there. They talked of their lost children waiting in heaven.
It was as if they were Virgil to my Dante – hands full of morning dew, my face offered to meet their touch and being made entirely clean.
It seemed important to not be so swift afterwards to hide. I wasn’t OK and I said I wasn’t OK and I let people hug me – which is not really like me at all, mostly. If I want people to journey with me I need to let them see that the journey is worthwhile, that they can add to my life, that I haven’t got it all sorted, that I am still in that process of becoming – and that happened yesterday.
Demonstrating brokenness and vulnerability is never easy, but allowing people to hold you and to offer them the chance to share their own stories is a precious thing.
This is church.