A do-over, to me, represents the grace to try again. I recently received a one-time pandemic bonus question on a final exam. The professor’s comments on my response helped me craft what would have been a more high-quality answer, after I had managed to compromise the first attempt in one of my first paragraphs!
Different, though, is the desire to resolve problems related to events where a do-over is desirable, but unlikely to occur. Time has passed and, along with it, the people and places I wish I had understood in a more sober context. Of course, I want the perfect picture, but that is not realistic, nor does it acknowledge that God is working in my life–that He has not misplaced my story, nor will I find Him sleeping soundly at the switch. Tragedy and trauma happen.
I discovered a research article about the prevention and handling of missing information. In it is Wendell Berry’s proposition that “it would be good to know everything is probably false,” which helps address our fallibility, morality, and error. In research, the more integrity reflected in gathering the evidence, the more compelling the results will be. But this conspicuous trio of our humanity helps us continually answer the question: “How does one act well—sensitively, compassionately, without irreparable damage—on the basis of partial knowledge?” * My scenario reflects a context in which someone does not know what to do, and so chooses to act in a way that copes with or avoids adversity and suffering.
Recently, I learned some information concerning my early childhood that impacted my understanding of how the atmosphere was created in my family. But now what? In hindsight, I wish I had been able to put two and two together at an earlier date, or perhaps to take things less personally. This knowledge might have alleviated the anger that accompanied a breach of trust in my primary relationships, and led me to the pursuit of a new relationship, a new career, or anything else that responded to my felt agonies.
Hercule Poirot, one of my favorite fictional detectives, succinctly points out his conclusion on the issues of the heart in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017):
I have seen the fracture of the human soul. So many broken lives, so much pain and anger giving way to poison of deep grief until one crime became many. I have always wanted to believe that man is rational and civilised. My very existence depends upon this hope, upon orders and methods and the little grey cells, but now perhaps I am asked to listen instead to my heart.
For me, this second type of do-over is subject to insufficiency. In my narrative, I must embrace the capacity to allow my mother distance, since she has requested respite. I will pursue God’s bold vision of what my life may become in view of my former quests for understanding. A continued lack of understanding means that many other aspects of my family’s lives will remain unavailable, and thus incomprehensible.
As I struggle with recovering myself and wishing I had been more of what God intended in many areas of my life, I must acquire a new language of benevolence and love.
Accepting my finite, fallen humanity, realizing that I am always acting in the face of partial knowledge, paves the way forward as I freshly rely on God’s wisdom.
Proverbs 3:5-6 offers a response to Berry’s question. What does it mean to act well, with compassion and sensitivity, without doing further irreparable harm to oneself and others, and without desiring absolute knowledge?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
*Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, by Wendell Berry
Marcia Zacharias is a single, ambitious, and courageous dreamer woman. She lives on the southern Pacific coastline of British Columbia, Canada, where flowers, oceans, and wilderness encourage her photography (she has recently released her website flowersandwilderness.com to showcase and perhaps sell some of her photos along with her specially crafted notebooks). In the meantime, she reflects on how God may use all of her curiosities and love for nature and writing but for now has commenced the “Christian community book and/or poetry virtual club” to maintain and inspire more meaningful conversations. She recently completed her BA in Psychology at Trinity Western University.