“Mercy” is a word I’ve known of for a long time. I was first introduced to it in church; it was a word that was said repeatedly and that appeared in the readings. I didn’t understand it very well, but I intuitively knew that it was important because it was so frequently discussed. This intuition only grew during my years in grade school, middle school, and high school. In my religion classes, mercy occupied a prominent place. My textbooks and my teachers talked about the great mercy of God and of the beauty of mercy. Although I could have recited the definition of the word, I still hadn’t been able to really understand essence or why it was such a big deal. It continued to be this way during my years in college; when I read about faith and virtues, I would run into mentions of mercy. It seemed that wherever I was, mercy would follow me.
True understanding and knowledge of it evaded me until the Year of Mercy. That year, I had the opportunity to personally encounter mercy. When the year started, I was several months into my first relationship, and although I was prepared and sufficiently mature for it when it began, I soon was confronted with a truth that had never made itself known so plainly. Being in a committed relationship with someone I loved, I realized that I could be more selfish and at times more immature than I had thought.
In the adventure and challenge of coexisting in an intimate relationship with another human being, my boyfriend had been like a mirror. In him, I saw my interactions during moments of disagreement, and I saw how I failed, time and time again, to be the best version of myself, to be the girlfriend he deserved. I saw how my selfishness, when not controlled and transformed into something better, led me to react in ways that were immature, curt, and insensitive. In the best cases, my actions caused annoyance, and in the worst, they hurt the person I loved. By looking at myself in that mirror, I saw all of my worst qualities and saw the damage and hurt they could cause when I forgot that now there was someone else and that I wasn’t the only one who mattered in those moments. It was a bitter and difficult realization to accept; I was disappointed in myself.
Those failures of mine had continued happening that year, along with the subsequent reality checks I gave myself when I recognized my errors. Although my resolve to do better was firm and sincere, I hadn’t been able to genuinely begin to defeat my selfishness and immaturity during difficult moments. I wanted to control and transform my selfishness, and I wanted to be able to effectively love and respect my boyfriend even when my ego tried to take me down a path focused solely on my visceral wants. I wanted to achieve those things, but I didn’t have the perspective to know what to direct my actions towards.
However, this changed during one particular discussion. The usual pattern of disagreement followed by failure and then disappointment had transpired, but this time there was a new element. My boyfriend reminded me of how he had reacted to my rude whims, my insensitive gestures, and everything else I threw at him when I gave into selfishness and anger. With gentleness and without seeking praise, he listed the kind things he had done nearly all of the times that I had stopped deserving them thanks to my behavior. I listened to him attentively, captivated by what I was hearing and understanding. I realized that when I was at my worst, he had reacted with nothing less than pure mercy.
The mercy had been there.
When I arrived showing anger, he greeted me with kindness and curtesy.
When I kept my brow furrowed and refused to even recognize his attempts to get me to
smile again, he kept trying.
When I made fun of his kind gestures and tried to mask it as humor, he kept extending them to me.
When I adopted the cold shoulder when he hugged me after a discussion, he continued hugging me with affection and hope.
When I failed in ways that cost him greatly, he kept giving me opportunities to show that
I could change.
When I had just pushed his hand away, he extended it to me again.
When I had ceased being someone loveable, ceased being someone who inspired affection, he continued to love me.
The mercy had been there, in my boyfriend and in his actions, each time I failed. When my he reminded me of these instances, I realized that all of them possessed a spirit of bravery, hope, and generosity. I realized that all of them were tangible proofs of a love so generous that it was willing to give even when the other person could respond with coldness, anger, disdain, or apathy. When I understood this, I realized that my efforts to overcome my selfishness and immaturity hadn’t been successful in large part because I had only sought to control and contain. I had never looked for ways to transform them into something I could give. All of the times that I had been inconsiderate and difficult, my boyfriend could have responded with indifference or neutrality so as to not let out his annoyance or anger, but instead of doing that, he had extended something to me.
In extending mercy to me time after time, my boyfriend had become the living incarnation of it. I had known mercy personally and intimately each time that he didn’t give me in return the attitude that I gave him and instead saved me from it and gave me something better.
After this realization, I came to see that mercy had been present in my life since the beginning, not only as a theory or an idea but also as a reality. I reflected on all of the times I could remember that my parents, my other family members, my teachers, and my friends had shown me mercy; I couldn’t help but feel amazed and immensely grateful. Mercy had always been there, but I hadn’t realized it until I noticed its loyal presence in my relationship.
During the Year of Mercy, I saw through my relationship what it is most difficult for me acknowledge: my worst qualities and the damage and pain that I can cause if I don’t control them and transform them into something better. However, perhaps by divine coincidence, that year I also saw that I knew mercy, the only thing that brings redemption. I had experienced it since the beginning, but without noting that I knew it through other people, I probably wouldn’t have understood that mercy isn’t an independent virtue, but rather an indispensable part of love. It is the brave, generous, and hopeful part that shows us that even with our defects, errors, and failures, we can love and be loved.