I can count on one hand the number of people who know that I am holding a grudge against them. And it may not even be a full hand. This isn’t to say that I am any better than others. It’s more that I decided long ago--so far in the distant past that I can’t remember when--to travel light. And while I’ve enjoyed the ease in travel, so to speak, a recent text message I received made me wonder if I have more baggage than I realized, loaded luggage that maybe got misplaced along the way.
I had just curled up with a particularly pleasing glass of rosé when I heard the text message alert. It was from an old friend who would be in town soon and was hoping to “catch up.” She’s a blast from the past, a face from back in my early twenties, back when we were part of a crew of twentysomethings on the same somewhat unscheduled agenda to determine what we wanted from life. It was an even playing field on which we were mutually supportive of one another’s futures. So, when she chose to go into a vendor industry that catered to special events, I thought it only generous to, when I was planning my wedding, let me be her first official client from whom she could launch her new business.
Her product was great initially, but I realized several months after the wedding, that I didn’t actually get what I was promised. I spent the next two years reaching out to politely settle the matter, and while she never ignored my requests, nothing was ever settled. I eventually stopped asking, but I never stopped being bothered either. I had taken a gamble on a friend who needed a credit under her belt to prove her worth in a new line of work. But, maybe I got what I paid for because maybe she wasn’t a real friend after all?
After years of radio silence, her recent text message came out of thin air. My initial thought was that she had some nerve to ask for a “catch up.” But, after nearly a week of ignoring her message and reviewing the facts, I came to a different conclusion: She has nerve because she thinks we are still friends. I set conditions that displayed that her lack of care was acceptable by me. It was acceptable enough for me to stop approaching her about it. Therefore, she has no clue that I hold a grudge against her.
Early on, we are taught to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I teach my children these lessons. I want them to grow up assuming the best of others, having compassion for those who don’t have the same support as they do, and to use such empathy generously for the better of more than themselves. If everyone chose those actions toward their fellow people, imagine how much we could accomplish as collective guardians of this planet. Countless times I have allowed someone to hurt me, take me for granted, or abuse me with their inconsideration. I’ve used these as opportunities to extend an olive branch. My life is so blessed in so many ways, so why taint it with an argument? Why make someone uncomfortable if I don’t have to? But there’s a step in the process of loving your enemy that, like my baggage, is easily misplaced.
Nowhere is it written in stone, high on a holy mountain top, that forsaking ourselves is doing unto others. Confrontation, approaching your enemy, or poking the tiger never feels good at the start. It’s awkward and maybe even dark, and while choosing every battle is a waste of energy, some battles are worth the blood lost because it’s a fight for someone else, someone left beside the forgotten luggage--you. Which leaves me asking this: In the moral path of taking the high road, when is the golden rule misused?
In the case of my friend’s text message, she remained comfortable. Meanwhile, I smack-talked about her to my husband and became internally unrelenting on the great matter. In the process of making the battle a private affair between me and it and not her, I turned the tables. And now I am left wondering if I am holding a grudge against her or myself for being so spineless.
Yes, I had asked about the services I didn’t receive, but I never demanded anything more than what I was getting back. Instead of speaking up, I retreated. So concerned with keeping our friendship comfortable, I sacrificed myself. I didn’t want the conflict, but I never stopped wanting what I wasn’t given. In return, the friendship suffered and consequently she interpreted the whole thing as acceptable. In her view, her lack of concern for my needs was good enough for me. What cause did I give her to think otherwise?
When I think about my history of “traveling light,” how many times have I done this before? How many times have I taken myself for granted in order to avoid making someone uncomfortable. I tell myself that I’m forgiving and congenial and that’s why I can walk into a room with someone who has offended me and shake their hand. But the truth is this: Forty years into living, and I still don’t know where my line is drawn between forgiveness and cowardice. If I’m being honest, how many other grudges have I redirected onto myself because I was too afraid to push for my power and glory in order to let others keep theirs? I probably need about three more hands on which to count the number.
So why am I so hesitant? Is it the conflict between me and the other person that scares me? Or is it a bigger conflict inside? Could it be that I am more afraid of making myself uncomfortable? Of forcing something out of myself--my voice and what it could do if I used it?
My voice has the potential to make me stronger and better equipped to stand up for others--my children, my husband, my family and friends. My voice could have possibly prevented the wrongdoing I received to also be experienced by another bride. My voice could save relationships. My voice is worth the battle when the fight is for good, and I am just as deserving of good as the next person.
I know enough to know that I’m not the peacemaker I claim to be when I cannot make peace with myself. There are some battles worth the blood. It may require us to go deep into enemy territory. There, we see our hurt and our frustration. Sometimes we might even see how we have wronged another. But in the expanse of uncomfortability, we also see just how far we’re willing to go, how angry we’re willing to get to right relationships for both camps. Will we ignite our battle cry or raise the white flag? Every case is different. Every person is different. My line in the sand isn’t the same as yours, but I am a guilty party and a fake pacifist if my choice leaves me with a grudge against myself.
I think I will “catch up” with my old friend when she comes to town. And when I do, I hope my voice has caught up by then too.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.