One of the more touching vignettes I've ever read appeared just before Christmas in my hometown paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In a regularly appearing column entitled "Bulletin Board," in which readers contribute their favorite anecdotes and memories, an anonymous author wrote:
"When I was a very little girl, my mother had health issues that led her to hurt me emotionally and sometimes physically. I would run to our workhorses for comfort. I could not have been more than four years old, and my head would just reach their chests.
"I would wrap my arms around a big horse leg and lean into the mare's chest. She would drop her soft nose to my shoulder, and the gelding would come in close behind me and rest his soft nose on my other shoulder. There they would stand, completely motionless. They encompassed me in a horsy hug until my sobbing stopped and my world righted itself.
"Again and again, I took comfort in the closeness of those horses. What they did was an act of love and compassion. I thought so then -- and 50 years later, I still think so.
"But, you know, maybe I touched their souls, too."
That heart-wrenching piece is compelling on many levels. I ached for the emotionally tortured little girl seeking solace, and teared up at the mental picture of those gentle beasts that sensed her need and provided the vulnerable tot with comfort. Just as powerful, however, was the author's ability to one day understand, empathize and presumably forgive her mother's behavior toward her.
I don't know how long into the author's life it took her to grasp and forgive the frailties of her mother, but that she did must have been tremendously liberating.
She embodies one of the greatest of virtues -- forgiveness -- the one most at the center of peace in any form or forum. "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me" is a verse from an old hymn I remember as a kid. And it really is true that true and lasting peace begins not in the negotiation chambers between warring factions or governments but in the individual hearts of all men and women.
It begins at home with loved ones, and encompasses friends, acquaintances and strangers. And the simple acts of kindness that forgiveness and peace engender can spread like a virus, from one person to another and to another.
What's so wonderful about the Christmas holiday season is the sense of goodwill it fosters in so many folks as they exchange greetings, smiles and kindnesses -- with strangers and loved ones alike -- in a way they normally might not at other times of the year. From our outfit to yours, here's hoping your 2007 is filled with the peace of the holiday season, health and prosperity.
-- Joe Roybal