“Whoever has two coats is to share it with he who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
— Luke 3:11
When I was a kid, dad grew cantaloupes in abundance. Summers tasted of cantaloupe, warm and messy straight from the vine, or cold with salt out of the fridge. One day, when I was eight, I was in the kitchen cutting myself some cantaloupe when my sister, who was three, decided that she wanted some too. So, I cut her a thin slice, very near the tough woody outer rind, with hardly enough flesh to bite into and I gave it to her. Away we went, each with our portions, however unfairly cut.
It might be hard to believe, but it wasn’t until my dad marched my sister, still gnawing her rind of melon, out to the porch where I was eating, that I had any notion of my wrongdoing. My father is a tall, physically imposing, but quiet man and his words that day, as much as the stricken look on his face, stay with me.
“How could you? How could you treat your sister like this? What were you thinking?”
Nothing. Beyond a mild annoyance at her existence, I had not been thinking of my sister at all. I had not been thinking of her hunger or her feelings or the fact that there was plenty of melon to share. I had acted out of blind self-interest, yes, but not out of conscious ill-intent, and my instinct when confronted, now, was to object, to deny, to get angry; an instinct made stronger by a wave of shame I had not felt until that moment. Dad made me apologize and share my melon — there was plenty to share. But I did so grudgingly, ragefully, and then ignored my sister for the rest of the day, punishing her for my shame.
It wasn’t until that night, listening to my sister’s raspy asthmatic breathing on the bottom bunk, that my conscience began to catch up to me. I climbed down to stare at her, three years old, a pain in the butt, but not so bad as sisters go, and I began to cry. I felt a deep sadness and then a shocking wave of rage — at myself, at my sister, I really can’t say. Then, on the heels of rage, a cold and terrible remorse that forced me, finally, to recognize what I had done, and to be truly sorry.