Remember the Suspenders
“Forgive and forget.”
While contemplating this easier-said-than-done phrase along with Colossians 3:13 and searching for an article of clothing to represent this idea of forgiving—and, in a way, forgetting—I remembered a story.
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, published in 1902, is a compilation of bedtime stories he penned and shared with his children. In “How the Whale got his Throat,” he periodically inserts parenthetical reminders—“(you must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved).”
Funny, suspenders had come to mind before I recalled the story. I had already done a little research. Not altogether surprising, suspenders and garter belts are worn only on occasion these days. They continue their grip on the formal apparel market, even as they cinched up daily garments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet, I discovered something surprising to me.
So what can be learned about forgiveness from a nearly-forgotten undergarment, two well-known storytellers, and a Bible verse?
First, it is important to momentarily forget about forgiving and look at the first word in Colossians 3:13. Bear has many meanings in English as well as in Greek. Anechō, means to hold up, bear with. The fact that this bear is used is critical. This is not the bearing that carries burdens. This is a bearing that holds up with forgiveness even after going through a course of events and doing all that can be done.
Different Bible translations aid in understanding which bear is referenced:
(This is especially applicable if you are in a frog-jumping contest in Calaveras County.)
All these verses remind me I must be as adjustable and detachable in my thinking of others as a pair of Mark Twain's suspenders. I should expect to be offended, to endure quarrels, to hear grievances, and to listen to complaints on a daily basis. I need to be prepared before conflict happens.
But, why would Kipling's shipwrecked Mariner “of infinite-resource-and-sagacity” cut up his raft into a grating and tie it across the whale’s throat with his pair of suspenders "(you must particularly remember the suspenders, Best Beloved)"?
Wasn’t the raft his only means of retreat? Didn’t he need his suspenders to hold up his pants? Was it because he wasn’t aware—with all his sagacity—that he was causing the whale’s hiccups? Could he not sense the whale was taking him back home? Why would he leave his “infinite resource” fastened across that chasm?
Although it is just a story, could it be so? Could suspending judgment prevent others from being swallowed up by the same conflict? Who needs the suspenders more to prevent exposure? The one who may or may not escape? Or the one who needs protection from future hiccups …or worse?
Fathoming the depth of this verse comes only after taking extreme measures. It requires nearly stretching to emotion’s elastic limit. Bouncing back to an original relational position, seeing that the twain will meet again, seems impossible.
It isn’t. As long as we remember not to forget to be the suspenders.
Even as suspender straps appear parallel from the front, something else happens in the back. They cross forming an X or a Y. Whether the two cross paths and go their separate ways or they meet in the middle and then traverse together, the point is they remain connected at the join.
Just as an echo sustains the voice across a chasm, bearing with others creates a resounding “I forgive” against the surrounding walls. It becomes like whale echolation communicating across the fathoms.