Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting Rid of Grudges

We all hear a lot about the wisdom of children. Many of us experience this every day, in the faces of our own children, in their words, their songs, their spontaneous gestures. From children, we learn curiosity, humility, and a sense of justice. We learn that unfamiliar foods are sometimes great and sometimes yucky, that bubble baths are both really fun and really clean, and my favorite, that sharing really means letting someone else have or do something that we are not ready to be finished with yet. But still, our children constantly hear messages about sharing, from parents, teachers, neighbors, siblings, and, of course, from the person who wants what they have. Funny, we don’t so often talk about sharing with grown-ups.

I don’t want to write about sharing today. I want to talk about one specific wisdom of many children, something that I wish I were better at, something that seems to come so easily to those of us with wide eyes and unlined faces.

What I am talking about is the practice of holding grudges. I do it. I admit that I am a holder of grudges. I wish that I weren’t, but I am. Despite my best intentions, I haven’t yet learned the art of letting things go, of forgiving and forgetting.

When someone hurts my feelings, usually by accident, I remember it for a long time. I replay the scene over and over in my head, searching out new details and nuances, experiencing and re-experiencing the hurt and embarrassment, wondering about the underlying motives, until, at least in my mind, a simple interaction has grown into something huge and hairy and smelling of rotten fruit.

I’m not sure why I do this. But I bet some of you do this, too. Maybe because it makes me less vulnerable to future hurts. Maybe because there is a part of me that believes that the hurtful words or actions are true or deserved. Or maybe it is just because.

When I was little, my sister and I would sometimes fight. Usually it was over something silly. One huge fight I had with my sister happened when I was about five. We were at the beach, and I put wet sand on my sister’s doll, Diane, even after she asked me to stop. Once, she mixed up the Light-Brite pegs that I had spent several hours sorting by color, because she thought they looked prettier all mixed up. Once, I broke the ear off of her chocolate Easter bunny and ate it. I don’t know why – I had my own chocolate bunny. But we would yell at each other and call each other names, probably like most young bothers and sisters do. After a while, one of us would usually storm off, fuming and often stamping and muttering under our breath. I have spent a lot of my adult life working and playing with children. We would play by ourselves for awhile, until we got tired of being alone. Then, we would find them, say we were sorry (or stand there waiting for them to apologize first), and our game would usually pick up from where it was interrupted. I did that, the children I know do that, and you probably did it, too.

I wish that I could do that today. Life would be so much simpler if I wasn’t so committed to holding onto grudges, so committed to perpetuating my own hurt feelings. I try to let go, and the more I practice, the easier it gets. But I am still aware of the time and energy I waste, time and energy that I would prefer to put into more fun and worthwhile endeavors, like spending time with my family, playing or writing this blog. It will be a long and winding journey, but I am confident that I will get there, someday soon. I am making progress. Just the other day, I thought about emailing my sister to forgive her about the Light-Brite incident. And boy, did I feel better.

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