The Forgiveness Man*

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Editor’s Note: A writer friend Elizabeth Bruce is this week’s guest contributor. Elizabeth draws on one powerful story from a collection of 33 stories she has recently published. She has been moved by people’s reactions to this cry for reconciliation and hope. Enjoy!

After the launch of my new story collection, Universally Adored and Other One Dollar Stories (published by Vine Leaves Press), my friend and fellow writer Tom Adams invited me to submit a guest blog post for Critical Conversations, and I thought I should focus on hope.

Ironically, as a frugal non-materialist, I’ve created a collection in which each story begins with the words “one dollar.” The title story, “Universally Adored,” refers, of course, to the universally adored American dollar—a capitalist’s pivot point if ever there were one!

None of the 33 stories in the collection, however, focuses on Enron-style “Masters of the Universe” Rather, they feature regular people searching for a way forward from the travails of their lives.

At book readings, I’m struck by how one particular story moves people. It’s called “The Forgiveness Man,” and I thought I’d speak about it here. The reader meets “an old man in flapping dungarees shouting atop a milk crate in the corner of the Dollar Store parking lot.”

“One dollar for your troubles!” the old man shouts on a summer’s payday to Californians who come and go. “Lay that baby buck down over here, and I will give you a gold mine of forgiveness, an abundance of absolution.”

The reader watches “a young woman with a newborn bundled in a ragged green snuggly” stop and gape at the man.

“See, this here forgiveness is my gift,” the old man says softly to the young mother transfixed before him. “I carry on these two boney shoulders all the sins of all the people, ’cause folks done did to me damn near every wrong a body can do to another—beat downs, slap arounds, whippings. Humiliations. Thievery, lies, betrayals. Carnal knowledge, covetations, callous disregard. Treachery, treason, equivocations.”

People in the small crowd gathering before him look at each other.

“You name it,” the old man continues. “Any violation that leaves a body bloody but still standing, that there’s been done to me. So, I figure,” the old man shifts his gaze back to the young mother in the front, “I got the right to forgive anybody anything. That there’s my gift. And I will share it with you good people.”

A sob breaks out from the young mother and her slumbering baby flinches, her tiny limbs jerking inside the snuggly.

“Whatever it is, sweetheart,” the old man bends toward the young woman weeping before him, “whatever sins of the fathers or the fathers’ fathers you been carrying around with you all these years, one hug from these arms will bring you a feast of forgiveness.”

The young woman takes out her last dollar and gives it to the man, and he wraps “his spindly arms around her and sure enough, she feels a peace come over her that she’d been without so long she thought it stillborn inside her.”

Her baby wakes and cries, but when the old man hushes the child, the crowd’s doubts are assuaged and a line forms in front of the old man.

The story then shifts, and we learn that the narrator was the baby in the ragged green snuggly. The old man was called “The Forgiveness Man” by the “the bedraggled godless who’d left their grandmothers’ religion behind, the heathen and damaged, and those dying with their sins uncleansed.”

Finally, the story shifts to the present, when the narrator’s mother—old now and dying—gathers her family around and hugs them, as the Forgiveness Man had hugged her, and they feel “the sweet release of forgiveness pulse through them, one damaged sinner to another,”

Sometimes when I’ve read this story aloud, it’s brought a few people to tears—especially perhaps “those bedraggled godless who’ve left their grandmothers’ religion behind.” “Bedraggled godless” is not a term one hears often to describe well-read book buyers in the nation’s capital, myself included, but perhaps that’s who we are—those who face death with our sins uncleansed.

We humans yearn for forgiveness in our daily lives and at the pinnacles and gullies of our narratives. We yearn to be forgiven, for ourselves, for our kinfolk, for the sins of the fathers, and the fathers’ fathers before us, to paraphrase Euripides.

Faith—in its many splendid garments—offers this solace to the faithful, if one can be faithful. But hope too, offers this. As Jim Wallis, founder of the ecumenical Christian social justice advocacy organization Sojourners says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change.” Indeed, “It’s a huge task,” the late, great DC community activist Josephine Butler used to say when her faith in transformational change was challenged. “That’s why we have to get started.”

Now, in a world ever more bloodied by venom and violence and the deep caverns of mistrust that pockmark our realities, I find myself yearning for The Forgiveness Man to appear before us and offer us “an abundance of absolution, a goldmine of forgiveness” that gives us bedraggled godless the solace of hope.

And perhaps we can. Perhaps each of us can summon within ourselves and among ourselves our own Forgiveness Man, Forgiveness Woman, Forgiveness Being who wraps their spindly arms around us, and we feel “the sweet release of forgiveness pulse through us, one damaged sinner to another.”

*Unattributed sections in quotation marks are excerpted from the story “The Forgiveness Man” by Elizabeth Bruce, in the collection, Universally Adored & Other $1 Stories, published by Vine Leaves Press.


  1. Sharon Klees

    Loved this !

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Sharon, great to hear from you, Tom


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