Marvin Repinski: Do I have to stay the same?

Published 5:33 pm Friday, November 19, 2021

A writer of poetry has given me an idea,  a possibility, for most of us.  Ann Trapp has put into words her vision for more than she is now.

Though I have begun, I am quite unfinished;

Incomplete, restless

Longing for a Cause

so absorbing, so fulfilling it will swallow me up.

Longing at the same time, for a Self so complete, so healthful it will swallow up life in whatever form it comes.

Perpetually adolescent, waiting, expecting, hoping,

I say, “The good news is no one needs to stay the way he is — productive, comfortable, finding satisfaction in continually developing skills — Finding pleasure in the closeness of a loving family, wanting to capturethe joy of NOW and hold it forever, aware that these moments are too brief.

You say the hard reality is no one will stay the way he or she is.

Besides school work and participating in athletic events in my teenage years, I had to find work to have spare money.   

I found part-time employment in a women’s clothing and accessories store. The entrance to the store had two doors on either side of an island of display windows — windows that I was assigned to keep clean both inside and outside. The part of the job that took getting used to, with the help of my co-worker Rose, was to remove the garments from the six or so lady mannequins and replace them with seasonal outfits. I at first hoped no classmate would see me placing new garments on those lady-like statues. I changed though.  After the first month I didn’t care who saw me working with women’s clothing.

All the women employees in the store loved  my work.  They even remarked, “When you wash down all those display windows, you never leave any streaks from the soap!” In this job, I was a different person. A young student could even open up boxes of new merchandise and put dresses and garter belts on the racks placed around the store.

Some changes, including growth and redoing of our options, are similar to what some religions call being born again. Asked if I have been “born again,” I now answer, “Yes indeed, many times.”

A pastor friend of mine, has written about the avenues his life has taken. I quote him: “For me, a first insight into the wonder of rebirth came when I was 16. I worked on a farm in Ohio at haying time. A migrant worker whose leather hands spoke of many fields, many harvests — the lines cleft deep — the callouses high — told me of his experience one afternoon as he was heaving bales and I was getting in the way.  Speaking of his own re-birth, not self-righteously or judgmental, he said it’s like this:  ‘It’s like having your eyes skinned as you would skin a coon or a fox — you see everything different — you have a new look at life and where it’s going, so you can get on with it, proper like.’  It wasn’t until years later, whizzing along the beltway carrying me home to Silver Spring, Maryland from McLean, Virginia, where I worked, that I understood in part what he meant.  A series of nudges, gentle enough over time, made sense in that small car at twilight.” 

We relish the thought that we don’t have to be in a rut forever. We can find some solid ground to place our feet. “Dropping the load” is how one person has described our dealing with wounds, betrayals and stumbling.  Pastor Barry Johnson has written about divorce.

“There are few experiences in our society more guilt-laden and failure-convincing than the process of divorce. It often leaves scars that never heal.”

It was after his first divorce that Bill Coffin, until a few years ago, the Senior Minister at Riverside Church in New York, had an encounter with an old friend that isolates our tendency to cling to guilt loads in the face of forgiveness.  Coffin had lived with the brokenness and readjustment to his values and relations.  A lot of this was internal and a struggle of many months.  Like many people, he didn’t feel like sharing his pain with his friends.  Thus, while walking with Abraham Heschel, the noted New York rabbi, Coffin was stunned when his wise old friend brought it up.

Slipping his hand under my arm he began,

“I understand, my friend, that you have been through much suffering.” 

“That’s right, Father Abraham, it’s been hell.  It still is.” 

“You should have called me,” he said.  “You were in Los Angeles all summer.”  “You still could have called me.” 

“Well, I didn’t want to bother you.  Besides, I had other friends I could talk to and I don’t like talking about such things over the phone.” 

“That was a mistake; I could have helped you.”  Irked by his self assurance, I stopped and faced him.  “All right, how could you have helped me?” 

As I had seen him do so often, he raised his shoulders and his hands, palms up.  “I would have told you about my father, the great Hasidic rabbi, blessed be his memory, who too was divorced. You see, you Christians are so vexed by your perfectionism.  It is always your undoing.” 

He continued to talk in this vein, and I felt the tears starting down my cheeks.  He was so right.  And it was nice that a Jew was reminding a Christian that his salvation lay not in being sinless, but in accepting his forgiveness.”