Guilt and Grace

“I often wonder why people torment themselves as soon as they can.”

On January 5 I walked along the sea in Crete and remembered my father who died on this day last year. The things I should have done, the desire to rewrite the past. But why punish myself with guilt? A line from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal nattered at my thoughts: “I often wonder why people torment themselves as soon as they can.” I ran my hands along the stone wall of an ancient fortress. Perhaps this self-punishment is an echo of the blood sacrifices of the past, a modern variation on the ritual of suttee or the tribes that chopped off their fingers to illustrate their grief for the ones they’ve lost, to relieve their guilt at continuing to live.

As I walked along the sea of a strange country, I recalled the day-to-day details of my last year with my father: our morning drives to physical therapy, his constant tidying of our tiny pantry shelf. The comfortable rhythms of our conversations and silences, our routines and quiet complaints. We’d built a little life together, two men living in small clinical rooms. Looking up at the clear January sky, I realized my parents would want to kick my ass if they saw me brooding like this—and I was surprised to find that I was still having a conversation with them. And I found a moment of grace at the end of a pier in the Aegean sea.

2 Replies
  • Heart tugging post. I lost my dad last year too and often find myself reliving tortuous moments, as if I have to.

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