I can hold a grudge. Like, forever.
I remember once being so angry with someone that we didn’t speak for over two years. To this day, I have no recollection of why I was mad. I just know I was mad. And if I was that mad, I must have had a good reason. And if I had a good reason for being angry, that was certainly reason enough to continue the grudge.
Still with me?
I’m not saying it makes any sense. Anger rarely does. Except while you’re angry.
When you’re mad, everything makes sense. It’s like the whole universe suddenly fits perfectly into the narrowest confines of logic and vision, like every possible outcome of every potential scenario reveals the absolute gospel truth that so-and-so is an ass who deserves what he’s got coming. That kind of anger is sublime. It induces its own special sort of endorphic rush that makes you almost want to hold onto it.
But anger, I’m starting to realize, is a false emotion. It’s a distraction.
Anger isn’t really anger at all. It’s hurt. It’s embarrassment. It’s shame. It’s wanting to punish someone else for something we feel, as if making someone else feel bad will somehow make us feel better. But in the end, it never works out that way.
I know – sometimes there comes along a special someone who completely deserves the wrath you’ve reserved for just that person. They’re infuriating. They’re caustic. Merely attempting to hold your anger in the presence of this individual only makes it worse. It actually feeds on your effort, doubling its strength by the second, until you finally explode.
Been there. Done that. Wanna see my T-shirt collection?
The worst thing is being angry with a friend. You know what I mean. You thought you had mutual trust and support. You finally allowed yourself a quarter-inch of vulnerability. And someone you believed in goes and says or does something that crushes that vulnerability. There is a special word for that kind of action: betrayal.
And nothing – I mean nothing- hurts worse. Because, if you think about it, only a friend can betray you.
I am telling you now. When your friend hurts you, forgive them. Immediately. Without reservation, without expectation. Whether they deserve your forgiveness is immaterial. Whether they want your forgiveness is irrelevant.
Strike that. I’m not telling you. I’m begging you. Forgive them!
A few years ago, within the span of a few weeks, I lost two friendships that stretched back decades. The first, to be honest, needed to separate. It was a one-way relationship that was particularly harmful to my personal well-being. But it didn’t need to end the way it did. And I’ll dine on that regret for a long time to come.
The second is a little bit harder to share. I’ve hesitated, frankly, while trying to find some way to make myself out to be the hero of the story. Or least not the bad guy. My only options, it seems, are (a) avoid the anecdote altogether or (b), lie about what happened. I’m going to go with (c) – the truth – and let the chips fall where they may.
I met this guy in the summer of 1986. We were Army journalism / PR students at Fort Ben Harrison (once upon a time a military base outside Indianapolis). Circumstances landed us both at Fort Leonard Wood (you know the place) for our first duty station, where we also ended up room- mates.
He was a little older than me, and a little bit better than me. And even where he wasn’t, luck always seemed to fall on his side. (Once, our commander accidentally gave him MY promotion. I’m not making that up. It actually happened. The major apologized for the mistake, but didn’t bother to fix it. That’s the military for you.)
After our Army days were over, we remained just close enough to keep in touch, and occasion- ally visit. But in the age of social media, our relationship changed from quarterly or annual touch- bases to, well, about what you’d expect. Lots of Facebook.
I don’t mean to belabor this story, but it’s important for you to know that I had the utmost respect (even jealousy) for this guy, right up to the day I unfriended him on Facebook and told him in specific, clear, unambiguous terms to get lost and, more to the point, stay lost.
He had it coming. He’d had it coming for a while. Our Facebook posts over time had shifted further and further from spirited political debate (again – he was better than me) and into the realm of personal attacks. Telling him off was appropriate, even necessary. Severing the relationship, on the other hand, was shortsighted, foolish, completely unnecessary and, ultimately, one of the worst things I’ve ever done.
And that’s not even why I’m the bad guy.
A month or two went by, and one day my phone beeped. It was a message from my former friend.
It was heartfelt. It was direct. He accepted full responsibility for my outburst. And he asked for my forgiveness.
I didn’t give it.
Worse – I told him he was forgiven. Then I walked away, sanctimony not even ringing in my ears.
For weeks, I thought about trying to make it right. I wished I could make it right, but tried desperately to convince myself that I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to make it right.
But it wasn’t true.
I knew exactly what to do. I could call him, apologize, and beg his forgiveness. That at least would be a pretty good start. But every time I thought about it, I knew I wouldn’t do it.
I knew, because if I were going to do that, I’d have done it.
No, it doesn’t make sense. But that’s anger, remember. Punishing others for how WE feel.
This ate at me for weeks, but I did eventually reach out. It was just about the hardest thing I’ve ever endured – and I’ve had triple-bypass surgery. BUT I can report that today my old Army buddy and former friend are re-connected. We still disagree on almost everything, but I’m grateful to have him in my life anyway.
I don’t dwell on it (much), but I do occasionally think about months of missed time simply because I was a jerk for five minutes. (I know, he deserved it.) But at least I can tell you now, in good conscience, speaking from experience:
You can take it back. You can get past it. You can.