From Mercy to Merci

Mercy. Over the last couple of years, “mercy” has become my exclamation of choice. Or habit. In any case, “mercy” replaces what was often if not usually a vulgarism with an inoffensive word that is somehow (has become?) also an appeal or even a prayer. I knock over a glass of water, I say “Mercy.” A car cuts me off on the freeway, I say “Mercy.” I find myself disgusted or frustrated, agitated or angry, “Mercy.” When I catch myself doing-saying-thinking something I shouldn’t, “Mercy.” I may say it in disgust but it is never a swear word. While saying “mercy” started (consciously) as an exclamation, it has evolved into (at first without my awareness) a prayer to God for patience, for tolerance, for peace, for forgiveness.

For the last two weeks, I have been traveling in France (where the wine business takes me two or three times a year). I know some French but not enough to speak the language. Nevertheless, I enjoy the language and particularly enjoy some of the correlations between French and English. On a visit to the Chateau de Santenay in Burgundy, our host told us (in English) that they now kept wine in the “basement of the donjon” in which we were standing. In France, a “donjon” is a fortified tower. We have the same word in English but we say “dungeon” and are referring only to the basement of the tower. See, its fun.

While in France, I try to use some French words and phrases. When reading, I comprehend enough words that I can usually get the gist of a French newspaper (and I have absolutely no problem with restaurant menus), but I don’t hear fast enough to pick up enough words to understand most conversation. Nevertheless, I say “Bonjour” (good day) and “Bonsoir” (good night), “Qu’est-ce que?” (What is that?) and “Cepage?” (Grape varieties?). And more. And I say “Merci” (thank you). Actually I say “merci” (pronounced “mer-see”, which in itself is funny as “mer” means “sea”) quite a lot as so many people do me so many small kindnesses when I am travelling. And as “merci” has replaced “thank you” without me even thinking about it, I find myself also saying “Merci” to God. “Merci” has become my response to His mercy.

Mercy and Merci, different words from different languages that look and sound much the same, have become my two most common prayers. And in a sense, maybe they are even the same prayer. With these two words, I acknowledge God in both my need and my gratitude.

And, with mercy and merci, I know how to love and serve God in loving my fellow man: by doing and giving and by acknowledging and giving thanks when done for. Thanks be to God for mercy and merci.


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