Andrée Seu Peterson: An author’s tea

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, April 30th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Andrée Seu Peterson now on omission, commission, and the order of things.

ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: Because life is short, I drive with tapes. So many sermons, so little time. This day I’m off to school for an “author’s tea” featuring my favorite author and her 16 first-grade colleagues. The pastor en route is preaching on “Hate what is evil.” It seems irrelevant to my jaunty mood.

I arrive and enter Ms. Wagner’s classroom for an event that has received top billing at our house for months now, the culmination of a semester of assiduous phonics and “guess-and-go.” The perfect dress has been laid out a week ahead, the book’s plot kept so secret that the FBI should blush. My only role is cupcake-bearer.

Chairs have been arranged in a circle, where seating is intuited: parent-child, parent-child. Like one of many patterning exercises I’d pulled from the homework folder of the aforementioned author. Spaces fill in quickly for the 9:15 a.m. reading of the junior authors’ original bound works. And I in my seat, biding time, study the faces of entering parents with their progeny, looking for similarities in the curve of a nose, the turn of a smile, a body type.

That’s when I notice him, the little guy across from me, the only gap in the circle that isn’t filling in, though curtain time is now 5 minutes past. Then, finally, 15, and we have to begin.

Maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Could be a single parent situation, and Mom or Dad just can’t get off work. Or two parents and neither can be excused. Could be heavy traffic, or an accident on the way. Or a sick sibling at home. Or the darned notice just got lost in the reams of daily schoolbag communication.

And then again…

What is sin anyway? And those sins that Jesus said cause children to stumble? When I was a child in the Church with confessional boxes, you brought them in on a 3 by 5 card to the priest, with improbably specific tallies: “I stuck out my tongue at my sister… 6 times.”

In adulthood, sin gets harder to quantify. Sin is the act of commission, but also omission. It is the methodically planned bank heist, and the fondness for afternoon naps that leaves the rafters sagging. It is defiant, or hardly unintentional. It is the ooze secreted at Eden that generally gunks up everything. It explains 9/11, and it explains a 7-year-old boy alone at an author’s tea.

A woman better than I quietly invited him to sit near her and her daughter, and our half of the circle each moved down a chair. The child read his book with dignity. A story, as it happens, about his mother’s birthday, and dedicated to her.

I went home afterward to a quiet room and found the place where it is written of a better day to come: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.

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