I hold onto things. Often for way too long.
I’m not saying I’m a hoarder, but I do have some action figures in package from thirty years ago–they are not cool, they are not valuable, they just are. I remember the day and the sentiment with which they were given to me. And so I keep them, mint in package, despite the space they occupy. It’s a small sample of how I live my life. I keep things around far past their time. This is true of relationships, as well. All friendships, loves, etc. aren’t meant to last.
Often the evidence of this shelf life shows up in conflict. You’re not supposed to make one another feel bad about life, but there it often is. I’ve held onto these toxic bonds for way too long in friendships, collecting pals like Pokemon. The numbers are stupid. The best thing about being critically ill is that you learn very quickly who sticks around and why.
A close friendship came to an end in March; we couldn’t keep the sections of our lives separate, and the traumas of the last year had left both of us dinged up. There wasn’t anything positive left in our interactions.
After a period of being supremely angry, that faded out. Like the disciples when they arrived at a town not ready to hear them, there was nothing to do but dust off my feet (real and synthetic) and walk on, or like Jay-Z and Obama offer us, just get that dirt off my shoulder.
And for a while, I was comfortable with that. In May, he contacted me when I was hospitalized with a worry of congestive heart failure, to tell me he didn’t want to talk to me but was praying for me. I had a few friends in the room at the moment; the phone got passed around in a game of hot potato swapping from indifference to rage to disbelief to humor. Prayer, especially in situations of tension between people, remains a deeply personal thing; I don’t know what comfort I was expected to gain from being made aware of it in this situation. Ultimately, my friends helped me realize this milquetoast reach-out had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. And it helped me let it go.
I received another contact request from this person yesterday, asking for the reestablishment of a baseline relationship in which at the very least we could interact amidst our shared circles. My instinct was to initially respond warmly, to accept his offer to talk things out, to make an attempt at reconciliation. We loved one another once. That had to matter.
Then I remembered the message in May, and where and how I’ve been spending energy since the end of our friendship. It wasn’t like me to knock that dirt off my shoulder and move on; when a friendship ends, I spend months Monday-morning-quarterbacking things, certain it’s my fault, certain I’m deeply flawed, resolute that I’m not the wronged party.
And this time, it just wasn’t so. I didn’t appreciate the notification in May, and I didn’t appreciate this contact, either. But I realized I could forgive him, and I had to. And that it had very little to do with how it would make him feel. From my vantage, what had happened was so beyond not okay that it had colored my perceptions and reactions. I wanted no part of that ever again. The person I’d loved just didn’t seem like an entity anymore. And so I took a deep breath. I cleaned the dust off my feet. And I moved on. I forgave and sent a short email back explaining the situation.
And I felt better than I have about this situation than I had in two full years, long before the friendship ended. Saying goodbye without guilt, or shame, or an adolescent need to chew on why we don’t want to be friends anymore–all of that was so freeing. It’s like the space in my head this person had occupied is cleaned out and available for rent again.
I wish I’d learned this earlier than 36, but hey: the only way out of the labyrinth really is to forgive.