I ask my pal Mark Couto, Have you got a kind of wood that won’t catch fire if I drop a piece of burning paper on it? Mark is a skilled craftsman at a high-speed lathe with a variety of very sharp cutting tools, using his touch and finesse to turn a piece of wood into an exquisite piece of art.
I had already Googled and learned that Brazilian Walnut, called Ipe, has the same fire rating as concrete and steel. But I didn’t think Mark would have such an exotic species in his wood shop.
Why do you want wood that won’t burn? Mark asks.
I tell him I want a mortar and pestle—a bowl and a club. And what I’m gonna do is light a candle and set it beside the mortar bowl. I tell Mark I’ll take a note pad and write down the name of somebody I’m pissed off at, and one or two words why. Then I’ll catch the paper on fire and drop it in the bowl. I’ll let it burn.
But I don’t want to burn up my mortar, I told him.
I’ll take my pestle club and grind the ashes to a fine dust. I’ll lift the mortar bowl and ashes to my face, and like blowing out a birthday candle, I’ll blow the ashes up to the Great Spirit and ask for help to let go of my grudge. Forgiveness in motion.
“It is a privilege, this promontory of years—the heart grows looser, and hurts are faster forgiven. The grip on grudges comes uncurled and things fall from view, and we don’t even look to see was a dust cloud raised at our feet. Mostly we just ease on a farther piece down the road as if it does not matter so much what’s back there.” –Rove MacNee, A Sound Like Thunder
So Mark goes over to his inventory of wood and comes up with a chunk of Bois d’Arc (Wood of the Ark) What could be better? Sometimes it’s called Ironwood. Mark calls it Osage Orange. Somebody with a degree in trees might call it maclura pomifera. A Mississippi farmer setting fence posts might call it Bo Dock.
I wonder could I make my own mortar and pestle. Mark invites me to take a turn at his lathe. Shows me some basics. Cautions me on some safety precautions and leaves me alone in his shop. But after 45 minutes of clumsiness and cussing, I go outside the shop to find Mark and tell him I give up. He’s busy with a piece of farm equipment. He tells me it just takes time.
No. It’s kind of like some people ain’t ever going to swish 3-pointers from half court. Not if they shoot til their shooter is shot. I stand and chat with Mark. Then leave, headed for my sister Sandra’s house, where I’m a guest over Thanksgiving weekend. I tell her I am a failure at the lathe. It just takes time, she says.
I do a quick check of my expiration date and decide to order a metal or granite mortar and pestle from Amazon. Even though an artifact sculpted from some fallen tree is what I most want.
Next time I see Mark, maybe three weeks later, he hands me a mortar and pestle he made by hand, what you see in the picture above. I do not get misty-eyed. For I am a real man! But my heart that can sometimes be hard as ten-day old cornbread softens up there for a long minute, near ‘bout to melting.
I tell Mark the Bois d’Arc mortar is too pretty to risk a paper fire burning inside it, the pestle too fine for mashing up ashes.
No, he tells me. He tells me that set was brought into the world for the purpose I described to him. Mark’s right. The artist’s willful intention, I believe, imbues the wood with powerful purpose. Loosening the grip on some grudge takes all the help it can get.
Better to let things that bug me burn up in a bowl, instead of burning in my belly.
Plus, it’s that time of year. Me and the green Grinch both know this Christmas stuff is really about cutting our neighbors and kin a little slack, blowing away some of our differences so we can find that common ground Jesus was star-born to preach.
The very season entones Luke’s call for peace “and on earth good will toward men.” (I reckon women have sense enough to be peaceable without being reminded.) And it occurs to me I must also offer up gentleness and gratitude from my mortar bowl, not just anger.
Matter of fact, I decide I’ll break-in the mortar this very night and wield my pestle of peace mashing ashes from a note that says I’m grateful for the Truth of Forgiveness. How it works as promised.
All I gotta do is hunt down a pen and a ream of notebook paper and some matches. Maybe sing a little ditty about rancor roasting on an open fire…