I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
“To My Mother” by Wendell Berry.
One of my favorite movies is Sam Mendes’s Road to Perdition. There’s an unforgettable early scene in that unfairly forgotten film, where Michael Sullivan (played by Tom Hanks) has just been lamenting to his adopted father John Rooney (played by Paul Newman) the recent rebelliousness of his eldest son. After listening, an amused Newman stares out the window and responds. “Natural law: sons were put on this earth to trouble their fathers.” It’s a brilliant line, one which — for better or for worse — the fathers and mothers of my friends, from early on to late college-y age, would hear now with a slight smile of recognition, as I would hope they’d read this poem.
I took the picture at my friend Peter’s farm near Keswick, Virginia.
More from Berry: