I will confess to you that, you know, one of the statements that’s been attributed to me that I’m sort of proud of is somebody said, you know, “What do we do about Osama bin Laden?” And they asked me, “Can we forgive him?” And I said, “Forgiveness is up to God. I just hope we hurry up the meeting.

The second time my grandmother caught me vomiting, she didn’t wait in the hall; she sat on my bed paging through the copy of The Rise of Silas Lapham that she’d found on my nightstand. Her voice was raspy with morning as she said, “Close the door.” When I had, she said, “That was very foolish of me before, wasn’t it? Thinking you were trying to lose weight.”

I stood by the bureau and said nothing.

“We’ll go to Chicago, and we’ll have it taken case of. Next week, likely. I need to make a few calls. You can do as you see fit, but I’d advise against saying anything to your parents. I just can’t imagine what purpose it would serve.”

I felt an impulse then to express incomprehension, except that I did comprehend. At night, when I listened to “Lonesome Town,” I knew. She was right.

“Isn’t it – ” I hesitated. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“Certainly, and it happens all the time. You can’t legislate human nature.”

“You don’t think that I should have it?”

Quietly, she said, “I think it would kill you. If the circimstances were different, I would say, ‘Go live at a girls’ home in Minnesota, go to California.’ But you don’t have the strength. You’ll be strong again, but you’re not strong now.”

As she spoke, I could feel my lips curling out, the tears welling in my eyes, I whispered, “I’m sorry for disappointing you.”

“Come sit by me,” she said, and when I did, she rubbed my back, the palm of her hand sweeping over the white cotton of my nightgown. After a moment, she said, “We have to make mistakes. It’s how we learn compassion for others.” She paused. “You don’t need to tell me whose it is. That doesn’t matter.”

They are between us and God, I thought; God has more mercy; and then I came out of the church and saw the crucifix they have there, and I thought, of course He’s got mercy, only it’s such an odd sort of mercy, it sometimes looks like punishment.