Dear Hank

(As a reminder to those of you who are not Hank, Hank slammed me pretty hard yesterday. You’ll need to read his comment for this reply to make sense.)

Dear Hank,

I’m pleased to know you don’t hold a grudge, but it leads me to wonder how much nastier you could have been if a grudge were part of the equation.

You call me “useless,” and I can’t deny it. The fact is, my uses are few. The best I can muster is that I’m a competent breakfast cook, a licensed driver, and a nearly-adequate installer of ceramic tile. I don’t even know any card tricks.

As for my being like unto “road kill,” everyone knows that roadkill spurs pity, not contempt. (That poor raccoon!) Perhaps, then, my squashed-mammal presence was a solemn reminder of your own mortality – there but for the grace of Michelin go thou.

Yes, I was obnoxious, loud and rude and mean to everyone, but that you understand.  Apparently I crossed the line when I “took every opportunity to be a douchebag.” Does that mean there are obnoxious, rude, loud teenagers who see an opportunity to be a douchebag and don’t take it? What good is it to be obnoxious, loud, and mean if you turn up your nose at a perfectly serviceable douchebag-being opportunity?

All sarcasm aside, this is why it’s very hard to take your criticism with any degree of seriousness – it’s all snark and no specificity. I can’t think of anything I could have possibly done to you to merit such a Captain Ahab-esque bile screed twenty-eight years after the fact. I assume that in the decades since we last met, worse things have happened to you than being teased by me for a few months in 1986. (If not, then congratulations on your charmed life.)

So when bad things happen to you, do you always lash out like this?

“Triple A was twenty minutes late to jump my car battery –  damn them, their demon spawn, and their douchebag-being livestock!”

I am not surprised, however, to learn that I was “nothing but a ‘negative’ to everyone and everything.”  Truth is, I was shunned both by people and inanimate objects. Not only did I have no friends, but even the furniture hated me.  The silver lining is that Neil Diamond’s complaint in “I Am, I Said” about chairs not listening to him makes more sense.

You lose me when you start going off on my “dubious” writing skills, as people who write “you’re platitudes” when they mean “your platitudes” really don’t hold the literary high ground, as it were.

Incidentally, and also tangentially, how did you find this dubiously written blog in the first place? Why would you seek out someone to whom you’ve given no thought at all who writes like an ape?

I have done you no bodily harm, I don’t owe you any money, and I haven’t published any compromising photographs. (Yet.)  And still your rage endures like a thirty-year-old canker sore.

Fact is, this is now officially your problem, Slick, and not mine.

Please know I don’t hate you. I’m not even mad at you. And I think you have talent! (You were an especially good fencer in “Desdemona,” and I’m sure you’ve only gotten better with age.) I’ve actually gotten something of a kick out of this. Anytime you want to call a truce, I’m in.  I have no interest in extended this animus any further beyond its expiration date.

But the fact remains that while I readily admit I was kind of a jerk thirty years ago, you’ve made it clear to everyone that can read English that you’re kind of a jerk now.

I think I got the better end of that deal.

Toodles!

Jim

On Being Hated: Seven Years Later

In reviewing an incident about which I posted early in this blog’s history, I realized this blog is now in its seventh year. That strikes me as being a very long time to be writing political
rants and bowel jokes, even if I don’t update it as often as I ought.

Yet this blog still survives because I have become the de facto online locus of all those with a beef against the Order of the Arrow, which still amuses me to no end, even as it enrages many O of A supporters. Yet I recently received a very kind comment from someone called “Andy Arrowman” who acknowledged the legitimacy of my original point and suggested I seek a formal apology for my experience.

Fact is, I don’t want or need a formal apology or anything like it. My comments about the O of A were always meant to be funny, not vicious. If I were to be actively still holding a grudge after thirty-five years, I’d be the one with the problem.

Which brings me to my latest comment, which was attached to a six-and-a-half-year-old post titled “On Being Hated.”

For those of you unwilling to click the link and read the old post – you slothful readers, you! – it’s an article where I recounted an unfortunate incident from my Kids of the Century (KOTC) days. KOTC was the performing arts group I participated in during most of my adolescence, and the timing of this comment seems appropriate. Just this past week, I was back in Los Angeles, and several of my old KOTC friends, many of whom I have not seen in decades, came out to a gathering in which we renewed old friendships, caught up, and generally had a delightful time. The story recounted in the post was also discussed on that occasion, which leads me to believe that it somehow inspired the comment I’m about to address.

Anyway, here’s the scoop.  Back in the day, there was a couple in KOTC, and in my piece,  I called them Hank and Sheila, which are not their real names. Hank and Sheila were very comfortable with public displays of affection, which resulted in much untoward mockery and general nastiness from yours truly. When I ran into  Hank and Sheila back in, I think, 1990 or 1991, which was five or six years since I’d seen them last, I went to say hello, and, while Hank was quite friendly,  Sheila was decidedly nonplussed and unwilling to speak to me, still quite angry about how she had been treated.

Well, today, Sheila had her say.

______________

“This is Sheila,” she wrote. ” You could have apologized for all the belittling, harassment and bullying you gave me, my now husband and brother-in-law but you sat next to me without any regard for your actions. There are consequences to your actions and You were a very big bully to most of the people in our group. Our incident would not have happened if you learned the art of remorse.”

______________

Ouch.

So here’s what I wrote back:

______________

“Well, hello, Sheila! Glad you found me! I hope you, your husband, and your brother-in-law are well.

I am grateful for this opportunity to apologize to you for how cruel, rude and boorish I was back in the day. If I could go back and undo my unkindness, I would. I have no excuse, nor do I pretend to have any.

Yes, there are consequences to actions, and it seems that my actions have cost me the opportunity to be your friend. I sincerely regret that.

My point in this post was not to justify my behavior, but rather to illustrate that holding grudges hurts the grudge holder a whole lot more than the object of the grudge. Having held a fair number of grudges over the years, I learned long ago that forgiveness is healthy not because the forgivee deserves it, but rather because the alternative is so destructive. As my old boss used to say, ‘hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.’

Your timing is appropriate, as I was in Los Angeles this past week with my family, and I spent an evening with a host of old KOTC friends that was the highlight of the trip. The people who showed up to see me were some of the dearest friends I have ever had or ever will have. I remember them – and you – with nothing but fondness.

I apologize again. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy.

Jim”

______________

(Unlike “Hank,” “Sheila,” or “Stallion,” “Jim” is, in fact, my real name.)

I just want to share a few more thoughts that have occurred to me here.

While in no way trying to deny that I was, indeed, an insufferable boor toward Sheila, I find it interesting that she insists I was “a very big bully to most of the people in our group.”  I just don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t want to start a new quarrel with Sheila and add additional insult to injury, but I’ve stayed in contact with enough of these people to realize that this perception is distorted by Sheila’s ill will toward me – which, again, I earned by my actions.

Rather, I think this serves as  the point of the post, which was not to say I was a good guy, but rather to say that hating people, even bad people, does nothing but damage to the person who hates.

At the same time, I think many misinterpret what forgiveness is. Sheila, even if she were to forgive me, would not be required to have anything further to do with me as a condition of that forgiveness. People talk about how important it is to “forgive and forget,” but those are two very different and often contradictory things.

I can forgive someone who steals from me, for instance, but I’m not obligated to give them my PIN number. I can forgive someone for being an alcoholic, but I’m not going to take them barhopping in the future. Those who suffer any kind of abuse should forgive their abusers and, at the same time, do everything in their power to avoid suffering abuse at their hands ever again. We should forgive, but we should not forget. Remembering allows us to  prevent further abuses that prompted our forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not acceptance or an embrace of the wrongs perpetrated on us, of which there will be many in this life. Rather, it is the abandonment of the hostility and hatred that accompanies those wrongs.  That’s something we ought to aspire to, incidentally, even if our hatred is justified.

Or perhaps especially when our hatred is justified.

The Christian principle isn’t just forgive those who deserve our forgiveness, but rather to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

That’s an impossibly hard thing for many to do, but I think the alternative – living with hatred – is even harder.  Forgiveness, while beautiful and noble, isn’t an entirely selfless act. It’s necessary to protect ourselves from what our own bile can do.

To sum up: I forgive you, Order of the Arrow. But don’t expect me at the next staff meeting.

UPDATE: Hank weighs in!

Sheila’s husband Hank sent me the following message:

______________

and this is HANK…it’s not that we harbored any grudges…in fact, you were such a useless individual that we never thought of you once, up until we happened to have the unfortunate instance of stumbling upon you…(kind of like when you’re out walking and happen upon road kill)…I understand that during KOTC you were obnoxious,loud,rude and mean to everyone to cover your lack of talent and teenage insecurities…being several years older than you, I saw you for the boy you were….however, you took every opportunity to be a douchebag, and, in general, were nothing but a ‘negative’ to everyone and everything around you. I’d love to believe you’ve finally grown up, and I see you’re fond of throwing around quotes to attempt to bolster your obviously dubious writing skills, so here’s one for you…”stupid is as stupid does..”..and wrapping yourself in pretty words won’t alter the core. Rather than giving advice to others, heal thyself…and if you’re platitudes aren’t just that and you are truly sincere, spend your time with less focus on blogging and more figuring out how you can contact and make amends to the dozens of others your infantile antics haver injured over the years.

No response required.

______________