Living a life of penance

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, May 6, 2014

By Rex Alphin

Penance — “an act of self-abasement performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin” (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary)

Waiting for the day’s patients to begin arriving, I pondered what sort of human trials would reveal themselves today.


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As she stepped through my office door, I perceived her hesitating manner and reached out with open hand to introduce myself. She responded likewise with a short, cold handshake and sat down across from me, coat still in hand, as if preparing for a quick exit if things became too uncomfortable. Middle-aged, I presumed.

She started to talk. I listened.

Her features and language conveyed coarseness, not in a negative sense, but rather one of rigid responsibility and a devotion to duty. An admirable thing, I must say.

Speaking about her younger years, the layers started to peel away from her, and I discovered a perception in her own eyes of never quite measuring up, a perception initiated by her father and later confirmed by her peers, whether true or not.

It was therefore quite natural that her search for a husband fell to that lot of men who would perpetuate and further enforce this image of herself. It left her little recourse but to prove to the world — and to herself — that she was both worthy and significant. It set her on a path of perpetual activity.

But her quest had become a relentless taskmaster, a hungry monster whose appetite, like an addict, only grew as he received more. After 40 years of effort, she had no more to offer than at the age of 10.

By the time she came to me, she was tired. Just tired.

I leaned back in my chair, crossed my fingers, looked at her and pondered.

This woman needed a rest. A place of rest. It seemed to me she desperately needed some outside entity, some powerful being outside of life itself to tell her ,”I forgive you. Completely. I accept you. Completely. I give you permission to cease your striving.”

But those words needed to come from someone who actually had the authority to make such statements.

Who in the world could that be?

Rex Alphin of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is