Lesson 17: Always leave the door open

 

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Last Sunday I had dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Andy. Given the fact that for 7 years he wouldn’t speak to me, it still feels like a miracle to me that he and his fabulous partner, Herman are back in my life.

Andy is my “Will,” and I am his “Grace.” We met, dated, slept together and broke each other’s hearts in college. A few years later, he came out of the closet and became one of my dearest friends. He helped me plan, then call off my wedding. I sang “Can’t Help Lovin That Man” at his wedding to Herman. We were inseparable. Until 8 years ago, when we had a horrible and ugly falling out.

He takes full responsibility, but he’s wrong. I bear my own portion of the blame. He hurt me, no doubt – very badly. But in an attempt to protect myself, I did what I’ve always done: I wrote him a “poison pen” letter.

I’m really good at writing those. You know, the kind of letter that really sticks it to someone by telling them in so many ways why they are tragically flawed and how you have been unfairly wronged. Throughout my life, whenever someone has mistreated me, I have responded with one such letter. I learned to write them from my dad, who sadly wrote me one after my Sweet 16 birthday party.

He was late (as usual) and I yelled at him in from of all my friends. (He kinda had it coming, but that’s another story). He responded the next day with simply a letter, expressing his disappointment and sadness.  The pain of that letter changed me, and my relationship with my dad, forever. But it also taught me the power of the written word. I still credit him today for inspiring me to be a writer.

But as with all talents, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And I abused my power. Until recently, whenever I felt hurt or wronged, I used my skill as a way to defend myself from the pain. I’ve sent countless letters to insensitive friends, emails to obnoxious coworkers, and notes to rude salespeople. And a few to my dad. My words became my shield. My armor. It worked, but at a huge cost.

I read through a few of those well-written letters last week while unpacking in my new apartment. And 2 things occurred to me:

  1. I was right.
  2. It didn’t make me happy.

Over the years, I have cast off at least a dozen friends and boyfriends with these letters. And with the exception of one maniacal drama queen, I regret the loss of all of them. What I’ve learned is that given enough time, almost everything is forgivable.

If you don’t slam the door in the other person’s face on their way out.

No one wants their weakest moments rubbed in their faces. I certainly didn’t want to remember my Sweet 16 party as the day I ashamed my father. People are on their own paths. They will hurt you, yes. But they’re more likely to see the error of their ways, if you let them figure it out on their own, in their own time.

And if you haven’t dead-bolted the door, they often will return. Apology in hand, better and wiser than ever. I for one am open to the opportunity to see what and who walks in. And grateful for the second chances it often brings.

Happy Birthday, Angelo – I love you!

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