“Dear Laura. If it were just the two of us again, sitting together at the kitchen table late at night, I would probably just call this document an apology.” -Amity Gaige, Shroder
“i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)” -E. E. Cummings
Shroder is the story of families, broken and made whole by love’s dimness and fullness. It’s told from a father’s perspective as he tries to apologize to his soon-to-be ex-wife, Laura. In the midst of their divorce, he took their daughter to New England without telling anyone. Kidnapping, the police call it. I don’t want to defend him. I don’t want to attack him. Perhaps, at some point, we have to choose one of those, and sort out the consequences: the changes we’ll make in our lives. Shroder, I think, comes before that. It’s a book about how often we hurt and are hurt by those we love. It’s about apologies and (perhaps) forgiveness, and it dreams of how our connections might survive.
Are there things we do that are unforgivable? That’s an interesting word–for (perhaps meaning “completely” ) with give. It once meant ‘to give up one’s right to punish.’ In that case, it is an action from the one who forgives, isn’t it? You do not “earn” forgiveness. You do now “owe” forgiveness. It is given, and like all gifts, it is not made in reference to what is deserved or required. “Give” is from the old English “giefan,” which also means “devote, entrust.” Trust, an act we do: our own special breed of lovely insanity. I trust you. I choose to.
“Apology.” In Greek, it means a legal defense speech, the kind of thing you give at a trial. (That meaning hangs over Schroder: the hurts in his family are large enough to bring in judges and prisons). But we use apology differently, now; it’s an expression of regret. I call myself responsible, and I am sorry. I don’t know another word for that: to make amends? But “amends” means to make right, and so much of what I apologize for I can never make right. Our words don’t make cuts close up again. Atonement? I didn’t think of that one at first, because it feels religious–but the root, here, is simply “at one.” To atone is to become one with others, after being fractured apart. How can I ask for that, knowing I am imperfect, and will hurt you again? How can I offer that, having been hurt? What word do we have for the action of asking to remember love after pain, to return to a time when it was “just the two of us […], sitting together at the kitchen table late at night”? How can I ask for that, without defense or justification? I do not know a word that powerful. But I have meant it.
In reading Shroder, I hope that his daughter forgives him for what he’s done. I hope his wife does, and I hope he forgives her. (There are hurts on all sides). Perhaps we cannot always become one again, but we can protect connections instead of barriers. I can remember that, within everything else, you were trying to do the work of loving, of caring. I was trying. I fell short, and I’ll fall short again, but if we could find our way back to a time when we were sitting together and listening to each other, I would say I am sorry. I would mean it. And in that place, I think perhaps I could hear you, no matter what you’d done. Could you hear me?
I’m glad, in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book, to hear Amity Gaige thank her husband for his “love” and “wonder.” She’s captured a family that couldn’t hold itself together. Not all can, or should; sometimes there are so many recurring wounds, and you must stop yourself from being cut. I’m glad that she can write out all this pain, and help us sort through it; and I’m glad that, in those few words, she also gives us the example of a family knit by “love” and “wonder.” I think, perhaps, there must be some forgiveness there, too, heart-full and freely given.