Mercy on a Piano Bench

Cradled and held close to his chest, my entire body lay completely limp, my arms and legs dangling from the strength of his arms. The image came quickly to my mind as I rocked in a white wicker rocker on my front porch with tears streaming down my face. In silence with no words, I lay as if dead but in total assurance he heard my heart… “Father, please forgive me, please forgive all of us.” Being heard without effort and audible words felt odd.

Is this what unconditional love feels like? Held in unfathomable grace while dead in sin? I dared open my eyes to discover his own gazing into mine and his smile causing a fresh ocean of tears. My broken heart, my limp body and my whole soul grieved in response to his love. Desire to stay in his arms for eternity, to escape from this world of pain and horror was magnetically alluring. I stopped rocking and opened my eyes.

A minuscule spark of light stippled the black of night. No moon, no street lamps, only darkness dotted by a lone lightning bug. A tiny blip of Hope penetrating what feels like death’s victory in our world right now. Playing along with the light, my eyes searched the blackness for its next appearance. That’s exactly how Hope feels to me right now.

Virus. Riots. Division. Judgment. Accusation. Prejudice. Murder. Death. The trauma is humanly unbearable. Thus the reason for rocking on my porch at 3:00 am.

All I can muster at this point is surrender and owning my truth. I have been a participant. How can anyone own their participation in murder without first experiencing Grace? I feel my passion rise and continue to rock, the vision of being held fresh in my heart.

I can see her from behind, sitting at our piano and softly singing while her fingers gently play across the expanse of white and black keys. Not knowing I was there, her body jolted from my hug. Her gasp broke into a smile as she pulled my small body into her lap. Thelma was a surrogate mom to me. I loved her.

Thelma’s lap was a safe space for me to soak in her song and bathe my hunger for attention. Until my dad walked in.  She jumped up from the piano bench like an animal avoiding a spring trap. We both stood together as statues in tense silence waiting to be chiseled.   held her hand.

“Keep playing Thelma.” My dad walked to the piano and hit a few keys. Relief flooded the room. “No, No, Mr. George. I’ve got work to do.” He repeated himself. She took her seat and continued to play. The scene was a taste of Jesus in what would become my holocaust story.

My dad. I know today he was an Enneagram 7. Lover of fun, avoider of pain and always on the road of least resistance. It was his gifting and his curse. In this particular instance, his gifting made a difference in my eternity.

The night my young heart felt the piercing blow of prejudice and hatred was a night that birthed a rage too big for a child to handle.

This is the rage I wrestle with still today, a rage full of pride that has contributed to murder.

The night was dark. Sitting in the back seat of our car, I was excited to be chosen by my dad to ride along to “black town” to take Thelma home. I knew we were close when we crossed the railroad tracks.

Thelma’s scream shook my body. The light and smoke from fire billowed into the car. “Elly! Stay in the car!” Terrified, I ducked to the floor only lifting my eyes a smidgeon to peer out the car window. I could see Joe, Thelma’s husband, frantically beating flames. My dad joined him. I don’t remember how it ended, I only remember my dad’s words as he slid into the driver’s seat of our car.

“Damn Nigger Haters!” His three words penetrated my soul. Hell, contempt, hatred and advocacy birthed a war of confusion in my heart with three profound words.

“The responsibility of every person is respect. We must respect our right to choose. Every person is created by God so then each and every human being has a right to life, no matter if he is white, black, Chinese…  We all should have an equal chance towards life. But some people do not realize this. These people have a feeling of prejudice. People with prejudice discriminate against a person or certain minority groups. I think this is a very important problem that everyone all over the world should look at.” (An excerpt from an Ethic’s paper I wrote my Freshman year of high school still in my possession for such a time as this.)

All to say my complicity, my selfishness, my prejudice, my pride and my rage has contributed to an evil energy poured into proving myself righteous and superior. My white supremacy comfort and appearance has been more important to me than rocking the boat.

I think of the white and black keys on our piano and the beautiful music they create together. My longing for justice and humanity aches inside my chest, my gratitude for 3:00 a.m. Grace soothing the pain.

Grace brings storms to rock boats. Rocking in my chair, I begin to hum Amazing Grace.

How sweet is the sound in this chaos?


photo-4Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of 30 years. She is a mother of 4 children and 1 grandchild. She is a spiritual counselor with Restoration Counseling and her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.