On Wednesday morning I had the pleasure of being a returning guest on the WDET radio show Detroit Today With Stephen Henderson, who was here in Washington, D.C., recording from NPR headquarters. I was there to talk about the article I wrote a few months ago about my frayed relationship with my mother because of her support for President Donald Trump.
It was a good conversation and there were a few callers. One in particular echoed a refrain I saw commonly in comments on the article across social media. While most people were supportive of my “family sabbatical,” as it were, there was a substantial number of people who felt that because it was my mother, I should get over it. Effectively, the position itself comes with enough built-in respect to get over it and find a way to move forward; your mother is your mother—respect that, let her have her opinion, build a bridge and, again, get over it.
One such caller said something similar, accused me of requiring her to have views that reflect mine (not true at all) and said that I should extend her grace (I think he said graciousness) because it’s my mother. I responded to his comment—something to the effect that she’s allowed her opinions, but we’re all subject to the consequences of those ideas. But his comment stuck with me. Something about his use of the word “grace” just didn’t sit right me.
The song “Anyway” by Lonnie Hunter and Structure is one of my favorites. He opens up the song with “Grace and mercy: Grace is when you get more than you deserve; mercy is when you don’t get exactly what you do deserve ... ” For anybody who has spent any real time in church, this concept isn’t foreign. In fact, most of us who grew up in Christian households were raised on some variation of that statement. But the concepts are very important when it comes to appreciation and forgiveness.
Grace and mercy.
The caller told me that I needed to extend my mother some grace. I guess in theory that makes sense; if grace is giving somebody more than they deserve, then in this case, by virtue of the fact that she’s my mother, there’s a bare-minimum level of love, respect and admiration that is required—what she deserves—and by pushing past the things that hurt me, I should extend that grace.
Except, no. That doesn’t sit right with me. Here’s why: Just because you share blood with somebody—even if it is your mother—that doesn’t eliminate the need for mutual respect. If your relative treats you horrendously or puts you in a troubling and destructive position, and you DECIDE to move past it, to me, that is extending mercy. If people treat you terribly, you should let them go. If people make it difficult for you to get freedom and safety, they are a detriment to your existence and they should go. They don’t deserve a place in your life, and therefore they deserve to be removed. What they DESERVE is to be removed from your life. If you decide NOT to do so, I think that is extending mercy.
The thing about mercy is this: You really hope it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass later. You hope that you’re not making a bad decision. Grace is an easier pill to swallow. If I’m a teacher and my student couldn’t turn in a paper by the due date because of some household problems, I would extend some grace to him because he is going through some things. That’s just showing compassion to your fellow man. You don’t pay me back when you said you were going to? Fine. I can extend some grace.
If you break into my house and steal my television and I don’t turn you in to the police ... that’s mercy. That’s not grace. You deserve to have the police called on you. You’ve hurt me or committed some negative act toward me. You’ve caused me pain with full knowledge. And I think that’s a distinguishing factor. Grace isn’t for intentional pain. It’s, perhaps, granted as a result of myopia. That’s fine.
Grace was me apologizing to my mother after our first big blowout argument when she told me I needed to respect Trump. Mercy, on the other hand, was me taking her phone calls AFTER she’d made it clear that she didn’t care about my feelings in my house and leveled up by wearing a “MAGA” shirt and asking me to cart her around to run her errands. Mercy was me deciding to pick up the phone and listening to her tell me that she’s sorry for hurting me but that she’s choosing to see the good in somebody—Trump—as opposed to how I’m choosing to live my life. Mercy is me DECIDING that I’ll continue in this relationship that I feel actually poses a threat to me and mine.
Since that original piece in August, I’ve spoken to my mother exactly twice. The first time was maybe three or so weeks after she left my home. She called after noticing that we hadn’t talked and then querying my sister to find out what was up. We talked for about 15 minutes, and she apologized for hurting my feelings but didn’t think it was a big deal. She repeated her stance told me she didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. I explained to her again how I felt. I had this conversation in the car. When we got off the phone, I walked into my house, went upstairs and cried for the first time in a good long while (not associated with Disney movies). That day I decided I just couldn’t do it. I somehow felt WORSE after talking to her.
I didn’t talk to her—actively—for almost a month after that. I avoided phone calls and text messages. She spoke to my sister and asked about me. My sister informed her that I was OK but I just needed a moment. My sister told me that my mother cried over it. So I called her. It’s still my mother and I don’t want my mother being moved to tears.
We talked and had the same conversation again, except this time she cried on the phone with me and asked if we could just move past it. I never said yes. I told her that we were OK. And that I loved her. But I can’t get over how I feel. And given how she feels and what she’s said and how she promotes ideals and people that are hellbent on making America worse, I feel as if it’s not grace that I’m extending by allowing this relationship to exist.
I expect we’ll get past this tempest in our lives. And when the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down, my main concern won’t be this moment in our lives. But it is currently requiring a herculean effort on my part. Perhaps I’ll be better for it. Hopefully I won’t feel worse off.
Mercy, mercy me.