Don't you dare laugh.
I think I was on my third or fourth ravioli and the bread was great and the wine was better and we were having a good conversation about some movie, my friend and I, and of course I secretly harbored the opinion that my celluloid observations were far more brilliant than my companion's because after all I am the filmmaker, am I not, but anyway the dinner was, as I said, going down well in this quiet little restaurant, until this... disturbance began.
It was like when you are on a subway platform and you hear this ever-so-slight rumble, far off—kind of dreamlike--and suddenly there is a deafening crash and roar of the train pulling into the station. That's how this turmoil began in the restaurant.
At first I barely noticed it as I was speaking authoritatively about film, and then suddenly my ravioli started to shake, rattle and roll because there were two gray-haired women at a table near the kitchen door who were screaming at one another at the top of their lungs and using the foulest of language, and believe it or not, were reaching for each others' hair and shoulders and eyes. They were like Godzilla versus King Kong, they were like Lex Luther versus the Joker, they were like two sisters trying to murder each other, and their macaroni and gravy was going one way onto the floor and their wine and bread was going another way into the air, "You stupid beep beep thing" said one, "I'll kill you, I'll smash your beep beep face" said the other.
A woman at the other table leaned over to us and told us that they are sisters and that they have always hated each other and isn't it a shame, and then I looked again and realized that one of them was our waitress. Hard to tell with hair every which way, and blouses all disheveled, hard to tell because hatred turns a face into something unrecognizable, a Jekyll and Hyde effect.
An older man, I think it was their brother, came out of the kitchen and pulled them apart but even he wasn't enough, and his glasses went flying into someone's chicken cacciatore, but finally two others arrived and they separated the loving siblings, one muttering in the kitchen, the other--our waitress— finally stomping out the front door, and my friend and I tried to return to the ravioli and the film reviews, and wondered who would bring us the rest of the meal.
Her sister, of course, came out and waited on us. It was sort of a fun meal, like going to a dinner theater where the entertainment consists of women mud wrestlers, except that it wasn't really so much fun because it wasn't theater, and because hatred is really ugly, especially in two older women who are sisters, and I could not finish the rest of my ravioli, or my wine.
That night I had a ravioli-induced dream because ravioli always makes me dream weird dreams and the two sisters were fighting again but they were hitting each other with humongous sausages followed by barrels of gravy and then my mother, my Irish mother, comes between them, looks at them with a smile on her face, and says, "Now don't you laugh, don't you dare laugh..." pointing a finger in their faces, and of course one of them starts to crack, her angry face softens, the lips start to quiver in a desperate attempt to ward off a dawning smile, and then the two of them just break out into gales of laughter, hardi har har-ing all over the place. And then, for some odd reason, they look over at me, all of a sudden I am in the picture, and they take their barrels of gravy and they dump them on my head, and all of them—my mother, the waitress, her sister—-stand there and hardi har har at the gravy all over my head. "Don't laugh, don't you dare laugh..." they all say, and of course, I laughed and woke myself up.
She used to do that, my mother, when I was really mad at her and told her that I hated her and that I never wanted to talk to her for her for the rest of my life, she'd look at me, she'd come up close, and she'd point her finger at me, "Don't laugh, don't you dare laugh..." and I'd struggle desperately to hold onto my anger and my hurt and my hatred. And it was always a losing battle, I always lost in a nasal crack that exploded into giggly laughter, wide teethy smile, and it felt so good, the relief it brought, the release from the energies of anger and hatred and hurt and the reaffirmation of love from my mother, for my mother.
It feels so much better to love than to hate, so much better.
I'm thinking about that story of the prodigal son. You know the word prodigal means excessive, and it’s not the son who is excessive but the father, who is extraordinarily excessive in his love. And truthfully I’m not so much interested in the prodigal son but in his older brother who was so angry that this jerk of a brother of his had bamboozled his father into welcoming him back with a party and all kinds of gifts and special treatment. I'll bet you that his anger was years in the making, that he had nurtured it, protected it, even cherished it, this anger and resentment towards his brother, beginning with who knows what. And the truth is that the fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his too---any time he asked for them---except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them.
I'm thinking about those two sisters, such rage inside that they shed their senior citizen image and become wild savages. How long was that in the making? What long-simmering slights and hurts were they nurturing and tending to in self pity and righteousness before they erupted with such vitriole?
I'm thinking about all the people I have secretly resented, the people I have written out of my life, the people who I love to hate. I'm thinking about all the hours in the car or while I'm walking along the East River or when I'm listening to a homily, all the energy I waste building up cases against people I don't like, people who have hurt me, real or imagined hurts, all the pledges I secretly make that I will never, ever forgive them nor forget what they have done to me.
And I'm thinking about all the people you love to hate too. Family members, friends, colleagues at work, neighbors who have slighted you. The politicians, the indifferent functionaries, the unjust authorities; those who have hurt you personally, those who have injured the souls of family and friends, including the church and its priests and bishops. Imagine that bitterness, contempt, resentment and righteous anger from all of us rolled into one. I don't think any one of us could survive if it was focused on us, the force of all the world’s hostility and animosity.
Well, actually, one of us might have— did!
It was the storyteller himself, our Jesus, who for who knows what captured the anger and hatred and resentment of the world from beginning to end, who took it with him up on that hill, and in the moments before it killed him, he looked right back at it-- at us-- and said "Don't laugh, don't you dare laugh" which is a mother's way of forgiving and forgetting and a father's way of loving, which says to us that life is too short to live it full of hate and bitterness and resentment.
To seek justice where it is due, yes, but also to release ourselves from the energies of anger and hatred and hurt into the absolute, unconditional love of the One underneath everything and everyone that is. How can we not forgive one another when we know the Love that forgives us? How can we go on hating someone that God loved into being?
If there is an image in the Prodigal story that deserves to be frozen and framed it’s the one of the Father’s outstretched hands. His tears are moving. His smile is stirring. But I’m haunted by his hands…the strong fingers, his palms wrinkled with lifelines, stretching open like a wide gate, leaving entrance as the only option, calling both his boys to come home.
And I wonder…when Jesus told this parable of the loving Father, did he use his hands? When he got to this point in the story, did he open his arms to illustrate the point?
Whether he did that day or not, we don’t know. But we know that he did later. He later stretched his hands as open as he could. He forced his arms so wide apart that it hurt. And to prove that those arms would never fold and those hands would never close, he had them nailed open.
They still are.
Don’t laugh…don’t you dare laugh… and the giggles must come wipe away our anger, wide teethy smile on our faces. Rejoice, my sisters and brothers, you are loved and always forgiven.