20 Feb On Holding a Grudge

At a recent conference, I had occasion to see a woman — let’s call her Clarice — whom my ex-wife disliked. When we were married, I made it a point to dislike Clarice as much as my wife did, even though Clarice had never done anything to me. What she had done to my wife at the time, I can’t recall. I remember only that Clarice was not very pleasant. Or, rather, she seemed unpleasant. And that was enough provocation for me.

As it turned out, well after my divorce, I would on occasion run into Clarice and on every occasion I would act coldly towards her. It seemed we approached each other with narrowed eyes and an anticipatory antipathy. Four years ago, I ran into Clarice again and, as usual, we shared a cool, suspicious exchange. As I walked away, I wondered why, after all the years, I was doing this. What was I trying to prove? What, really, did I have against Clarice?

The more I examined Clarice’s reactions, the more it became clear to me that she is not mean-spirited but insecure, which makes her hesitant, even skittish. What I took for coldness was nothing more than awkwardness.

Honestly, I’m not one to hold a grudge — I’m too eager to please. And holding a grudge is hard work. Our natural inclination is to smile at and accommodate others because human life is all about society and society requires cooperation. The human tribe is meant to get along: the survival of our species demands it.

Holding a grudge demands that you hold back your humanity — it means that you stint on forgiveness and acceptance. It means that you have stopped trying and, as a result, some part of you must wither or, at the very least, some part of you must wait, holding natural (friendly) inclinations in abeyance. Animals don’t hold grudges, mainly because a grudge makes no sense — not in terms of survival or “progress” or the good of the group.

But here it was and I could not deny it: I had been holding a grudge for well over a decade and for no good reason. I was quietly appalled at myself.

Three years ago, I decided to make amends. When again I ran into Clarice, I made a point of being nice to her. My change in attitude seemed to frighten her and she all but ran away from me. Two years ago I did the same. This time Clarice accepted my kindness as she might have accepted an unbidden compliment from a stranger — with a tinge of suspicion and a sidelong glance of bewilderment.

Last year I didn’t see Clarice and I wondered how she was doing. I must admit I know nothing about her, except in a professional capacity. I imagine her to be a lonely person, perhaps misunderstood by other people like my ex and anybody foolish enough to follow the example my ex set. I have felt increasingly bad about my own foolish behavior. It’s not that I went out of my way to insult or harm Clarice — it’s just that it never occurred to me that I should try harder with her.

Recently, I saw Clarice from afar at a conference but couldn’t get to her before she disappeared in a crowd. Then, the last day of the conference, as I was about to leave the conference facility, we nearly ran into one another in the hallway. Clarice surprised me by stopping to talk — and she was friendly or as friendly as I could have hoped. I was solicitous, as you can imagine, and grateful that she was willing to take the time with me.

When we parted, I felt centered at last and quietly happy that Clarice had allowed me to close the circle that I had ruptured so long ago. I tell myself that I will be a better man from here on and, next time, think twice about holding onto something as useless and burdensome as a grudge.