1. charmingly or exquisitely beautiful: a lovely flower.
2. having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye, as a person or a face.
3. delightful; highly pleasing: to have a lovely time.
4. of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.
5. Informal. a beautiful woman, especially a show girl.
6. any person or thing that is pleasing, highly satisfying,
For about 7 years, I have had a friend whom I nicknamed “Lovely”. She once wore a shirt with the word embellished in large sweeping letters across her chest, and it’s just such a nice but far too uncommon word that I started using it as a nickname for her. More than cute, more real and far deeper than just pretty, it signifies a delight in character and visage.
Just yesterday, I was walking alone down the touristy streets of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It was relatively early in the morning, around 10am, and the cold sun had already begun to cast its grey shimmer through the thin fog, cutting across the stormy steel-blue waves that crashed against the pilings laden with seagulls.
The air was cool with a thick layer of sea salt, so I tucked my hands into the fleece-lined pockets of my rainjacket, and pulled the zipper up to my chin to keep my skin tucked away from the breezes. These weren’t the warm Hawaiian tradewinds that I’m so accustomed to; I shivered–not from the cold–but from the excitement of taking in the sights on my own for a couple hours before I had to catch my flight back home.
I felt exhilaration at the anonymity I had in this city full of wonders, and I felt the warmth of wanderlust winding through my veins, begging my feet to make haste in this new place.
It had been years since I’d seen the stalls stuffed with steaming seafood and crab legs, the stores lined with their squish penny souvenir machines and postcards of cable cars and winding garden streets. The last time my feet had touched these streets, I was just a girl, holding on to the hands of my mother. I remembered sitting and staring at barking sea lions, and breathing in the warm scent of soft sourdough bread. I couldn’t wait to explore this part of town and reawaken childhood memories that were retained in the ‘I heart SF’ sweatshirt and flattened pieces of copper stamped with iconic SF landmarks that lived in my drawers at home.
I set out from my hotel without a map, and without an agenda. I knew if I stuck to the shoreline, I’d never get lost, and when it came time, the waves would take me home.
I passed by an older woman, who accosted me, telling me that I was being stopped for “being under the influence of San Francisco”. She handed me a sticker with that ubiquitous “I ❤ SF”, and told me she was collecting money to feed the hungry. I signed my name and handed her some money, my soul warmed as though I myself had been given a warm meal. We chatted, and after hearing how I was a marine biologist, she affirmed that the beautiful blazing bounty of life found beneath the waves was a testimony to the glories of God. I wholeheartedly agreed, and she bid me farewell with yet another sticker–an American flag, this time–and a “Thank you” and a “God bless”. Indeed, I am blessed.
I kept walking, passing under an awning, smiling and waving as the stall keepers solicited me with smiles and promises of only the freshest seafood. I skipped the Starbucks, and stopped to admire a window full of San Francisco souvenirs. Always on the hunt for unique shot glasses to add to my collection, I slipped into the store, bells jingling my arrival.
I contemplated the bags of Ghiradelli chocolates, on sale, but having bought some just last night, I forced myself to keep walking. I perused one aisle full of cheesy shot glasses plastered with cartoon images of the Golden Gate Bridge and clip art cable cars, then stepped into the next aisle, walking past two men, and found another shot glass treasury. These were more unique, with colorfully painted scenes from the City by the Bay. Admiring the artistry and weighing it against the price tag, I felt a pair of eyes watching me.
The two men I’d passed slowly crossed over to my right, “Lovely,” one of them leaned in and said. They crossed back to my left, and the other said in a singsong voice “I always want what I can’t have.” I shivered, again, not from the cool breezes, but from the cavalier comments ringing in my ears. I kept my chin high and my eyes on the glasses, until I felt their eyes leave, signalling my cue to walk away.
It’s strange, how a few misplaced comments can make one feel so small, and so vulnerable. Cat calls, winks, leering glances, and sidelong sneaks are all part of the female experience, unfortunately. Usually I can handle things just fine, but because there were two of them, and I was just me–just an unknown girl in a strange city…it was an unsettling and unnerving experience. I felt unsafe, exposed, and quite frankly, fearful. The drunk power of a day of solitary wanderlust became tinged with slight paranoia and constant vigilance. I couldn’t just walk alone on the seaside streets getting lost in the sights, instead, the realities of my situation returned and I was more than just alone–I was unaccompanied.
I’ve had more than my fair share of girl friends who have encountered the darker side of desire. I struggle to forgive the men who have hurt them, but beyond that, I struggle living in a society where women have to fear for their safety. Moreover, not just a society, but a world where women have to face much more than the quick look up and down (even that is not ok).
I started this entry wanting to write inflammatory comments and have a righteous anger towards men who degrade women with their eyes, their words, or their actions. I wanted to rant and rave about the state of the world and how unjust, disgusting, and sexist it still is. I wanted to talk about the woman who was gang raped in India for no reason other than the fact that she stepped onto the bus. I wanted to champion women’s causes and point out that the worst in men is terribly all too common.
But as I wrote the paragraph before last, I came up blank. All this Jesus-flipping-tables anger just would not manifest itself through my flying fingers. I paused, and I knew that the Lord was calling me to forgive.
To forgive the men who besmirched the word love in the eyes of not one, not two, not even three, but four of my friends. Who pushed the boundaries because of their human selfishness, who took revenge and punishment out in the worst way possible. The men who refused to treat my friends with respect and dignity. Even now, when I think about what they have done, what they have said, and what they have taken, some of them over 3 years ago, I feel my body tensing in anger.
But I know, I know that God is calling me to let it go. I want to, but I want to see them change before my eyes. I want to hear that they understand how terribly they hurt my friends, how many tears have been shed over what they have done. I want them to know what they did and I want them to realize how broken they are. I want them to never do such things again, and instead, to fight for change in our society. But the reality is that grace is unwarranted. Forgiveness is unmerited. God, the God of justice and the God of grace, is more brokenhearted than I will ever be. All of these men knew God. All of them at one point called Jesus their Lord. Do I trust that God is at work in their lives?
My friends (or I) may never hear the “I’m sorry” that we’re waiting for. While it’s true that hurt people hurt people, forgiven people should forgive people. It’s a daily process, a choice . One that I haven’t wanted to approach for years. Why should I forgive them when they don’t understand the extent that they’ve done?
Because I am forgiven. Are their sins really any worse than my own?
Every act of rebellion against God causes pain and suffering–whether it’s to others, to myself, or most importantly, to God. The insurmountable sins that we have each committed were enough to put Jesus on that cross. It was enough that he willingly came down and lived the sinless life none of us could, so that we could know him.
Who am I to look down on my broken brothers and lord it over them, claiming that the pain they’ve caused is worse than the rebellious ways that I’ve chosen in my own life?
It’s not up to me. We live in a world that is broken, with people that are broken, who create systems of brokenness.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” -C.S. Lewis