If a person could get a degree in resentment, I would have a doctorate. I’m judgmental, I hold grudges over my own subjective perceptions of reality, but resentment is my specialty. The trouble is I made a commitment to be honest with myself above everything else, and the truth is there are often three sides to every story. There is your side, their side, and then there is the truth. This is quite a pill to swallow for me, because I also believe I am always right.
My friend David once said, “Family sucks. How else are you supposed to know who your friends are?” For many years, I shared this sentiment and still do on most days, because families can be hell. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I first learned how to deceive and avenge; to abuse and be abused; to smother and alienate. I guess you can say I might not have started this journey called life with a strong foundation, and upon this terrible realization sought to escape my family at any cost to my own detriment. I have often joked I could walk away from my family and never speak to any of them ever again, and most understand there is some truth to statements made in jest. This is not an easy thing to admit, but it is obvious I might harbor hostility to the family that made me for reasons beyond count. As if specializing in resentment wasn’t enough, I also moonlight as a victim on weekends.
Considering my line of work, I hear about the 12 Steps and AA almost daily. I always found it interesting one step involves speaking aloud all resentments to another person, from little Shannon in 3rd grade to your molester uncle Dave. Another step involves finding everyone you have wronged and apologizing for your wrongs except when to do so would cause harm. The idea is this forgiveness releases you from suppressed guilt and shame freeing you to rebuild yourself.
My little niece who is not so little anymore came into town. She was once a child that lived with me during a particularly difficult period of my brother’s life, only now she is all grown up with a daughter of her own. Like most of my familial relationships, we last saw each other and left things on quite the sour note, but hindsight is 20/20. We were once so close I considered her my own child in spirit, and oddly enough, she taught me how to be a mother before I actually became a mother, as she too was going through a particularly difficult period of time in her life. I think about her experiences without the blindness caused by hostile emotions, and it is so clear how and why she veered off course for a while.
I had not seen her in years when my mother called me asking me to come to her home for a family meal, as she was coming into town. Naturally, this invitation put me in a state of dread at the mere thought of sitting down at a table across from her…with my grandmother, mother, and brother. I tried my best to dodge this get-together, but after some soul searching I realized I was not avoiding them due to feelings of contempt towards them. I avoided them, because they have just as much right to resent me as I do them.
Allow me to paint a picture for you. My grandmother once caught me mid jump on her bed by placing a firm grasp around each ankle, while airborne, allowing her the precision and perfect opportunity to jerk my legs out from under me and deliver an ass whooping that rocked my world. In tit for tat like fashion, this is the same woman from whom I stole cigarettes as a teen to smoke in the backyard unintentionally setting almost the entire lawn comprised of fallen pine needles on fire. With all the conviction in the world, I looked my grandmother in the eye and told her I did not do it, and the worst part is she believed me. Maybe that is not the worst part. I guess the worst part is her dementia has progressed to the point she does not even know who I am anymore for me to hold any kind of resentment towards her. What good is it doing me? It’s poison for the soul.
See what I mean about three sides to every story? I have similar stories of each family member, and my niece and I are no different. It’s interesting how one can expect everyone else to be perfect.
Well, I finally dug up the courage to face my niece knowing how we left things before, and wouldn’t you know her little girl, a little blonde no more than two, greeted me immediately with a smile and a hug. We all sat down for lunch together at my mom’s house, and it was just as warm and sweet as it ever was. I’m not sure why we took so long, but we made amends and found catharsis. Everything was so serene as if I could feel something dead scrapes away to expose something shiny, solid, and new.
I don’t think it is a coincidence the last step of the twelve is service. All of the other steps involve restoring faith, responsibility, humility etc. in the individual., but the last step calls one to spread all the hard work on themselves outward, as they are now ready to do so. Even the Sermon on the Mount calls one to remove the beam in your own eye before pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye. I forgive them. Most importantly, I forgive myself, and I pray the goodness spreads outward like ripples in a pond after tossing in a stone.