“You asked me to renounce my sins; I ask you to renounce yours.”
In Despereaux’s search for the king, he happens to stumble upon the Mouse Council, and the Most Very Honored Head Mouse notices him.
The Head Mouse gathered himself. He tried speaking again. “Fellow members,” he said, “a ghost. A ghost!” And he raised a shaking paw and pointed it at Despereaux.
The other members turned and looked.
And there was Despereaux Tilling, covered in flour, looking back at them, the telltale red thread still around his neck like a thin trail of blood.
“Despereaux,” said Lester. “Son. You have come back!”
It’s not just that Despereaux’s covered in flour – they’re convinced that he can’t be alive, because no one has ever survived the dungeon (and he would never have made it out alive without a lot of help from Gregory).
Despereaux looked at his father and saw an old mouse whose fur was shot through with gray. How could that be? Despereaux had been gone only a few days, but his father seemed to have aged many years in his absence.
“Son, ghost of my son,” said Lester, his whiskers trembling, “I dream about you every night. I dream about beating the drum that sent you to your death. I was wrong. What I did was wrong.”
“No!” called the Most Very Honored Head Mouse. “No!”
“I’ve destroyed it,” said Lester. “I’ve destroyed the drum. Will you forgive me?” He clasped his front paws together and looked at his son.
“No!” shouted he Head Mouse again. “No. Do not ask the ghost to forgive you, Lester. You did as you should. You did what was best for the mouse community.”
Lester now realizes that the way he treated Despereaux was wrong, and not only asks for his forgiveness, but destroyed the drum, which he had no incentive to do except as an expression of remorse, and as a sort of vow to never betray his family again. But even so, Despereaux has every right to reject his apology.
Lester ignored the Head Mouse. “Son,” he said, “please.”
Despereaux looked at his father, at his gray-streaked fur and trembling whiskers and his front paws clasped together in front of his heart, and he felt suddenly as if his own heart would break in two. His father looked so small, so sad.
“Forgive me,” said Lester again.
Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love, a powerful, wonderful thing.
And a ridiculous thing, too.
Isn’t it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn’t it ridiculous to think that a mouse could ever forgive anyone for such perfidy?
But still, here are the words Despereaux Tilling spoke to his father. He said, “I forgive you, Pa.”
And he said those words because he sensed that it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. Despereaux, reader, spoke those words to save himself.
Because there are two people involved with an apology, and Despereaux didn’t owe his father forgiveness. But that’s what makes it so powerful. And ridiculous. He forgave him for his own sake as much as his father’s, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Despereaux needs to heal from the pain his family caused him, and forgiveness is just the start of that process.
And then he turned from his father and spoke to the whole Mouse Council. “You were wrong,” he said. “All of you. You asked me to renounce my sins; I ask you to renounce yours. You wronged me. Repent.”
“Never,” said the Head Mouse.
Despereaux stood before the Mouse Council, and he realized that he was a different mouse than he had been the last time he faced them. He had been to the dungeon and back up out of it. He knew things that they would never know; what they thought of him, he realized, did not matter, not at all.
And so, without saying another word, Despereaux turned and left the room.
He’s grown up! As opposed to the Mouse Council, who elect (or rather, vote) to forget all about the appearance of Despereaux’s “ghost”.
Only one mouse said nothing. That mouse was Despereaux’s father. Lester Tilling turned his head away from the other members of the Mouse Council; he was trying to hide his tears.
He was crying, reader, because he had been forgiven.
Until next time…