Nothing good is likely to come from a conversation that starts with the other person calling me “immature, stupid, and ignorant.”
Yet this was what G. alleged when he contacted me by email a little while ago. G. was responding to notes that someone else had written about a private phone conversation I had apparently had over twenty-five years ago. I do not remember having that conversation, although I do remember the context and have no reason to doubt his assertion that the conversation took place.
The context was that something truly evil and horrendous had been done to someone whom G. loved. He was contacting me now, twenty-five years later, to express his anger that in that phone conversation I had not expressed sufficient outrage at what had been done. On the basis of that phone conversation, he concluded that everything I had written in my long career was garbage—and that I likely was as well.
From what I do recall, I suspect that my informal comments back then were based on a very limited knowledge of the situation—the full details of what had happened were not yet known. I had not been involved in the situation except as a very peripheral observer, and in the phone conversation, when I was asked, I shared what little I knew.
But none of that mattered to G. Nothing good came from my email conversation with him. He was unwilling to listen to anything I had to say. He just wanted to vent his anger, and I was a fresh target he could attack. After a couple of attempts, I concluded that it would be best to just let the matter drop.
What struck me in my interaction with G. was that for him what had happened was just as fresh as when it had happened over twenty-five years earlier. He was still lashing out against anyone anywhere near the situation. He was still trying to resolve something that had been done by someone who might be dead by now. He was stuck in the past.
I could have told G. to let go and move on. That was likely a message he needed to hear. But I didn’t have the authority to do that. I wasn’t the one who had experienced something truly evil and horrible, and I didn’t feel I had the right to offer advice on something so far out of my own experience.
But I have a friend who can speak with authority on the subject. Wilma Derksen’s daughter was brutally murdered many years ago. A couple of years ago, Wilma wrote a book called The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk toward Forgiveness (2017). In it, she says that if we hold on to anger and hurt, it will destroy us. We need to forgive and let go. Letting go does not deny the horror of evil deeds, but it does allow us to move on and live feely. That understanding did not come easily to her. And it will not come easily to G. But it is a message that many of us need to hear.