On Grudge-Holding and Forgiveness

| 18 Jan 2021 | 11:22

In an effort to begin 2021 anew, I want “Let it go” to be my theme song, because for me, grudge-holding is an Olympic event and most the time I go for the gold.

I’ve heard all the axioms about letting go, the mother of them all from the late Carrie Fisher who said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Yet, nothing has ever really swayed me. I was even skeptical about “The Forgiveness Tour: How to Find the Perfect Apology,” by best-selling author Susan Shapiro, a Greenwich Village-based writing guru whose classes I’ve taken over the years.

For the last decade, we’ve gotten to know each other via our TMI personal essays that appear in print and online then shared via social media, but when she sent me the reader’s copy of her latest I realized my former professor had no knowledge of my dark side.

In second grade during snack, Maureen Casey absconded with the chocolate half of my black and white cookie. If I close my eyes and think about the incident long and hard enough I can still work myself into the frothy lather I did back in my Bronx parochial school. I have told this story so many times over the decades that it has become a running joke, especially for my in-laws who I have known for 40 years. When at an event where the bi-flavored treats are displayed, my mother-in-law Jessica has been known to say with a laugh, “They’re serving Lorraine’s trigger.”

If I can still hold on (even humorously) to a transgression over baked goods, imagine the space I’ve rented in my head to those who have actually done me real harm: the long-ago cheating boyfriend, the backstabbing colleague, the scurrilous neighbor — even the ones who’ve offered their version of a mea culpa. As Shapiro says in her book, “I already saw how a passive-aggressive ‘I hope you’ll forgive the imaginary crime you envision I’m committing,’ made me want to commit an actual crime.”

Repeating Mantras

Others in my life wanting to get me out from under my umbrage umbrella tried to make exoneration sound as easy as clicking my heels together, repeating mantras akin to “Let go and let god.” I often believed whatever pain I was experiencing was being minimized by these well-meaning advisors.

The appeal of Shapiro’s self-help guide is that her stories and those of others she’d interviewed is that it shows that forgiving (with or without an apology) can take time and can be achieved once there is some understanding of the perpetrator’s motivation.

Yes, you might come up against a person who is just nasty for sport, but the author even addresses that: “Hurt people, hurt people.”

As someone who can take just about anything personally, what I found out is that a lot of aberrant behavior isn’t even about the person it’s offending.

Shapiro’s therapist, for example, had his own in-need-of-counsel issues when he broke a promise that fractured their association. She also recounts her relationship with her late physician dad, a loving father/daughter bond that took a left turn every time her choice of profession came up. It wasn’t until later in life he revealed she was living his unrequited career dream and his criticisms were aimed at himself for what he didn’t do in his life.

When I closed the book, I decided to take a “tour” of my own. One of the people I was still “drinking the poison” for was a one-time supervisor. I was hoping for a mentor and got anything but. After I’d left the agency I’d heard she was fired and of course, thought, “Good.” In retrospect, she probably always knew her dismissal was coming and saw a younger, hipper version of herself, a la “Eve Harrington,” as hastening her demise. I was finally able to shake my hard feelings and actually admitted that now I might act the same way toward a subordinate, if I felt vulnerable about a much-needed job.

Can I ever make peace with my grade school nemesis whose infringement has become part of my DNA? “The Forgiveness Tour” showed me it’s possible, but there’s no cookie cutter approach.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a novelist whose third book “The Last Single Woman in New York City” is to be published by Heliotrope Books.