I Miss My Grudge
“Now that we adults, you prolly don’t recall half the kids you fucked with way back when you was small.
I wanna whoop that ass and explain it to the judge, ‘Its 30 years later, dawg, and I still gotta grudge.’”
– “The Grudge,” EMC
Ok. We all carry grudges as much as we refuse to admit it. Why is that? What makes a particularly bad experience – or a perceived bad experience – take up permanent residence in our minds? And sometimes our souls. When reminded of our grudge, it becomes like a bad tooth. The kind that your mental “tongue” keeps poking. Feeling around for additional flaws, testing the rough edges. We know it’s not going to get better on its own, but we usually refuse to do anything to correct it. We try to ignore it, but it’s not going anywhere.
And the longer it sits unresolved, the deeper the root of emotional attachment grows.
Some grudges are infamous. Like the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys. That one spilled across the borders of two states, lasted twenty-eight years, and ended up killing twelve people.
Shakespeare created one of the most famous grudges in literary history when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. The grudge between the Earps and the Clantons is still the stuff of movies. Helen ran away after falling in love with Paris, the King of Troy. It took her ex-husband, King Menelaus, a decade to destroy the city of Troy in revenge. But destroy it he did. That grudge only lasted ten years.
The conflict between the Shia and Sunni Moslems started in 632 AD after one of Mohammed’s wannabe successors for the job of caliph was killed by another wannabe caliph, creating a major schism between their respective followers. This, in turn, has caused millions of deaths over the centuries. It’s a long-term grudge that has been running for over 1500 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Now that’s a heavy duty grudge.
Grudges can totally ruin personal relationships as easily they can set off religious wars. Within families, people carry grudges against spouses, siblings, parents, cousins, even grandparents. Many times grudges are what a lifetime is built upon. Judy Collins once described Irish Alzheimer’s as – “You forget everything except the grudges.”
“My sister was older so she got the new clothes and I got stuck with her hand-me-downs all through school.”
“I can’t stand my cousin. He and I were in the same classes and he always got all A’s without even studying. I barely was able to pass anything. He’s still a jerk.”
“My parents always liked my brother better.”
“He took my baseball cards when I was eight years old and never gave them back. Even now, I feel like smacking him.”
By constantly repeating these types of justifications throughout their lives, people only strengthen their grudges.
Tons of studies have been done demonstrating how “unhealthy” holding a grudge can be. The Internet is full of helpful ideas with titles like “When to Forgive and When to Hold a Grudge” and “How to Stop Holding Grudges: Six Steps (with pictures).”
They offer advice like “speak to the offender” or “focus on forgiving.” Yeah. Right. Easier said than done. Like that is really going to work. Maybe someone should establish a wikigrudge website to explore how to wrestle with grudges.
A grudge can be cured. Sometimes it takes a “real awakening” to unseat a solidly entrenched grudge. Like if the grudge holder finds out that they were wrong in their thinking. Many times, however, a grudge may disappear due to lack of relevancy – the “it doesn’t matter anymore” scenario.
Which is what happened with me. I realized one day that, no matter how much hatred someone had spouted 45 years ago – or even today for that matter – it has absolutely no real impact on me, my family, or my life.
As a young boy, I lived in the inner city where bigotry was rarely openly displayed. People of all different backgrounds lived together in the same neighborhood. However, when we moved to the suburbs, having a Jewish mother and an Irish last name opened a world that I may not have been directly exposed to otherwise.
My family was not religious – being Jewish is as much cultural as religious. Even from the cultural aspect, we seemed to live our lives more as non-religious Christians than non-observant Jews. We put up Christmas trees, ate bacon, and had Easter dinners as grand as any Catholic or Protestant family we knew. Though my stepfather had been raised Lutheran, our Christian holiday celebrations were still purely non-religious as the only time he ever went to church was for weddings and funerals.
Hell, my mom even liked “hillbilly” music.
Actually, I secretly considered myself lucky for being non-religious. That meant not having to go to church for confession right after Saturday afternoon matinees the way my Catholic friends did. I would have hated to go to confession after spending the afternoon throwing Jujubes and popcorn at the girls sitting in the rows in front of me in addition to making fart noises with my armpits during the boring scenes. I’m sure those things alone would have cost me a minimum of four or five Hail Mary’s or whatever the going rate was for minor sins in those days.
The downside to being an “incognito” Jew was suffering from the lack of restraint shown by others who possibly would have been more sensitive had they known I was Jewish.
Young children and teens will often mimic their parents. They will put into their own words what they heard from parents, older siblings, clergy, or anyone who influences them. The high school I attended had maybe six hundred students, the overwhelming majority from blue collar homes. Out of my senior class of one hundred and eighty or so – all white and a mix of Catholic and Protestant – there were a total of four Jews, me included. The other three had Jewish last names. I didn’t.
Prejudice and anti-Semitism were not rife and rampant in my high school, but they most assuredly did exist. In the sixties, prejudice was much more overt in society – virtually everywhere. Though much more camouflaged, it still exists today, as virulent as ever. It just isn’t as casually accepted now as it was then.
The bigoted conversations didn’t often take place around my more identifiable Jewish classmates. However, because most of my fellow students didn’t know I was Jewish, I would hear the comments being made about “that Jew” who couldn’t climb the rope in gym or “the Jew” getting the top grades in chemistry or just being a “weird Jew.” Or that someone “jewed the old Jews” who owned the drug store across the street out of a nickel or dime. Or the “damned Jews” causing traffic jams on Friday night because of the synagogue in town. Or maybe it’s time to join the local South Jersey Klan group because they know how to handle the “Jews.”
These conversations were very unsettling for me as an insecure fifteen year old who had moved to town only the previous year. Neither my family nor I had ever done anything to these people. Why did they feel that way? We weren’t bad people.
Most of the nastiest comments seemed to come from only a handful of my fellow students. In my mind, they became the next generation of the ilk that had annihilated so many people in Europe just twenty years earlier. Because I could never confront them openly, I never had the chance to see if they really felt the way they talked or if they were just parroting bigoted parents. Just trying to show off and sound more “grown up.”
Whatever the reasons behind their conversations, they led me to cultivate one of my longest-term possessions. My Grudge against people who had, to me, become “The Jew Haters in My High School.”
My high school graduation is more than 45 years in the rear-view mirror and the school no longer even exists. And, as I look back, I now know My Grudge was created by a number of factors that all converged at the same time: the insecurity most fifteen year olds suffer, the semi-isolation and uncomfortableness of being “a stranger in a strange land,” and being caught off guard by the level of vehemence of some of those overheard discussions. By not feeling that I truly fit into a group of classmates that had mostly known each other since kindergarten.
In the last few years, I’ve slowly come to the realization that it was time to do something about My Grudge. Maybe it was unfair not to give the “kids” in my class the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I had overreacted. Maybe they grew up and outgrew the prejudice. Maybe they’ve changed.
But, during this introspection, a most eye-opening thing happened. It suddenly dawned on me that it really didn’t matter anymore how they felt or what they said. Then or now. I should never have let it matter when My Grudge started to grow all those years ago.
People are going to hate. Sometimes justifiably and sometimes not. I just finally realized that it’s their problem, not mine. I had no need to hate them anymore.
The best part of this epiphany was that My Grudge disappeared completely once I finally looked it in the face. There was no longer any reason to continue to carry that ugly weight. When the justification for its existence vanished, so did my grudge.
And along with it went my whole cadre of more minor grudges. Like the one against a former coworker whose uncle promoted him over me for a position I really wanted and was more qualified for. Or the “trust fund” college kids I went to school with who never had to work while in school and whose parents bought them a new car every time they crashed one. Or Robert, the kid in kindergarten, who stole my sugar cookies and got away with it because the teacher didn’t believe me.
Or my best friend Dan, who died from cancer and left us behind, after we tried so hard for so long to get him to quit smoking. Some deep-rooted grudges come from love and those are the hardest to dissolve.
Now there is an empty space where my grudges used to reside. Nothing else has moved in. Yet. I’m not sure with what to fill the space. Hopefully, it’s something positive. Something to get rid of the echoes of the negative vibes that resided there for so long.
In some ways though, like a longtime close confidant who has suddenly gone away, I miss my grudge. It was something I could always depend on being there. A stable thing in my life. A lifelong companion. What should I do with the hole in which my grudge used to live? Should I resurrect my grudge? Should I develop a new one?
Hmm…. Well… There is that neighbor who is driving me nuts as he keeps harping on and on about how we’re violating some Home Owners Association rule or another…….