Nothing in the World but Mercy

Nothing in the World but Mercy May 24, 2024

a guinea pig in the strawberry patch next to a bowl of strawberries
image by Mary Pezzulo


I woke up sore, itchy, and worried.

One of the errands I ran yesterday, before I made that strawberry jam, was a trip to the doctor. In 2021, the nurse who was giving me my COVID vaccine pointed out that one of the moles on my shoulders was getting dark, so I got a referral to the dermatologist’s office to have it biopsied. The dermatologist cut off two odd-looking moles, one of which turned out to be normal, but that dark mole was “mildly abnormal.” The abnormal type of mole is the type that can turn into cancer, if you leave it to keep mutating for months, but it wasn’t cancer yet. Not an emergency, just something that could have been one eventually. Now I go back to get examined every six months. He’d had to cut off two more spots last year, one more normal and one more abnormal. Thursday, he got a fifth spot. The biopsy won’t be in for three weeks.

Local anesthesia always makes me itchy the next day, so I woke up with a prickling itch on a wound I couldn’t scratch. The mole he’d had to cut off was a bit deep, so the sore spot on my back was worse than usual. The doctor had said  he was very unconcerned, He always says he’s very unconcerned.  I had been very unconcerned as well, until after I’d slept on it.

I used to be completely unafraid of death. Suffering, now, that’s another story, but not death. Death meant meeting Jesus, and I knew my conscience was clean. Now I’m not so sure.

Steubenville has been a long cascade of more and more certain knowledge that the Church is not a good mother. The events that began in 2021 have convinced me that she is a terrible, abusive mother. I still believe her theology. Her theology is the best way I’ve ever found to articulate the things I’ve experienced about God. But when a mother is that wicked, how do you trust her to teach you right from wrong? Not the basic gist of it. Not “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.” I mean all the little rules that are supposed to teach us how. A  few of them seem to do the opposite.

What if you absolutely can’t do what that mother orders you to do? Do you just do the best you can, and hope that your Father is more reasonable than she is, so you won’t get a spanking when he gets here? Because I can’t go to confession. I’ve tried. I want to go, but the panic attacks are too severe, and I don’t know if that can ever change. And there are a small handful of things that this abusive mother has informed me are deeply immoral even though they hurt no one, and I can’t make that make sense.

It makes me feel unsafe. If I died just now, I don’t know what would happen to me next.

The shower stung that sore place, and I couldn’t find a fresh bandage to go over it.

The sore place stung until I went to the store to spend our last five dollars on a box of bandages. It stung as I twisted and turned around to try to cover the sore with the bandage, right in that place on the shoulder blade that I can’t reach easily. It stung as I cooked those eggplant from the pantry box for dinner.

It stung as I went outside with my spaghetti strainer under one arm and the guinea pig in a laundry basket under the other, to pick strawberries.

There is no easy way to trample through a strawberry patch and get all the fruit. It’s exhausting to do it standing up, and it stains your trousers to do it on your hands and knees. Somehow I managed, meticulous, picking over every little plant, reaching down to the soil under the dark green leaves. I filled the bowl to overflowing, but there were more strawberries everywhere.

Adrienne came out to join me. Strawberries have always been her favorite fruit, but she likes the half-ripe sour kind best. She helped me harvest berries for a few minutes before getting tired and lying down in the clover to listen to her music. Lady McFluff had been grazing under the laundry basket, but just at that moment she butted it with her head in just such a way that she got free– right into the strawberry patch, invisible except for the shaking leaves.

I was so sick of strawberry picking, I hoped she’d eat a few and save me the trouble.

Adrienne promised to watch her carefully. I did not make her go back under the basket. We laughed at her antics together, until I heard the sound of Jimmy’s boy riding his scooter in front of the house.

“Come get a bag and you can have free dessert!” I commanded.

Jimmy’s boy asked for four bags, to share with his friends.

I showed him the patch. “The green ones are too sour, and the slimy ones are rotten. Other than that, help yourself! Look close to the ground. They’re hidden like an Easter egg hunt.”

If I’d told him there were jewel-encrusted Fabrege eggs hiding under the strawberry plants, I don’t think he would have hopped to work faster. Jimmy’s boy and Lady McFluff trampled all over the patch, happy as a human and a pig could possibly be. And then he got tired of searching for strawberries, so he helped himself to several handfuls I’d already picked. I showed him the pea plants that were covered in flowers: soft white flowers from the ordinary store-bought sugar snap peas, and rich purple flowers from the rare heirloom sugar snap peas I’d gotten at the free seed bank. “In a week when you come to see me, these flowers will be gone, but the sugar snap peas will be all over the vines and you can help with the harvest again! And here are your watermelon bushes just getting started. We’ll have watermelons when it’s almost time to go back to school. And ALL of these are sunflowers. And these are tomatoes. And this? This is a surprise pumpkin. I won’t know what kind until fall, because the seed grew at random out of the compost.”

By the time he went back to his own house, the boy’s bags were stuffed to overflowing. And I still had a strainer that was nearly full, with more to come out of the patch. And these weren’t the ugly misshapen little strawberries that had ripened first. These were glistening red rubies, firm and picturesque.

“I’m going to bring a bag to the Friendship Room,” I said. “Maybe some of our jam as well. They can have them on ice cream for the Fourth of July picnic.”

I had wanted to share my garden produce with the Friendship Room for years. The strawberry plants were finally producing enough to pass around– to neighbors, to the homeless downtown, even to the guinea pig who was still happily munching. And there was still more fruit to come– there were hard green berries still ripening. There would be peas and onions and tomatoes for all.

I realized that the sore patch on my shoulder had stopped hurting.

A robin swooped low over the garden, singing. I watched him light just over the door at my neighbor’s old house, which has been empty for a year.

There was a nest up there, built into the crack between her screen door and her door. The bird was bringing food to her children. I saw that she was a robin.

I remembered that Italian folktale about the robin– that a bird had landed on the cross to comfort Jesus and gotten her breast all stained with blood, and forever after all robins wore the Blood of Christ in His memory.

I can’t explain my reasoning just then. But at that moment, it was impossible to believe that God was unjust or unloving, or that He’d want to destroy me as His Church has done. It couldn’t be. Not when there were strawberry bushes and pea blossoms, guinea pigs and neighbors with children. Not when pumpkins and tomatoes rose out of the compost without cost. Not when birds stained with the blood of Christ brought food to their children in the place where so much evil used to be done. Not when it was late May, and the lake beach was open for swimming, and the Baker Street Irregulars were happy with their music, Adrienne was finishing her school work.

If my life had been demanded of me just then, I’d have turned around happily and offered the angel some of my strawberries.

There was nothing at all in the whole wide world but mercy.




Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.



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