In reading Flannery O’Connor this summer in conjunction with an ongoing reading and discussion over on Jonathan Roger’s blog, I came across this especially poignant passage from The Artificial Nigger. Of course, it has more impact within the greater context of the story, but makes a certain impression in its own right, too.
Mr. Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.