When my hubby, Bill, told his ex, Ann, that I was pregnant with our first son, she’d said, “That woman should not be passing on her bad genetics to another generation.”
I’d imagined folks who’d felt that way about my dwarfism, but she was the first to blurt it out.
It was ten years down the line after their divorce, and Ann was still railing against Bill. Any phone call turned into a dump fest. She hadn’t let their daughter come to our wedding. She made visitations difficult. She blamed and badgered. It was infuriating to watch.
Occasionally she threw some ridonkulous zingers at me. After I’d gnaw on them awhile, I’d let em go. As Anne Lamott would say, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Thankfully, Ann lived across country – I never had to face the rat.
My step-daughter was getting married. We’d be flying out west, straight into Ann’s nest. She’d have the hostile home-field advantage. Gulp.
Suddenly, the old grudges I thought I’d “let go,” were squawking. I’d had a hidden addendum: “let it go, except in cases of attack. Then haul out the poison to defend yourself!” I started rehashing the past; Ann pulled this and that crap…she’s critical, defensive and needs to be RIGHT. She tells herself she’s better than I am. Will she make a scene at the wedding?
When it comes to painful relationships, all self-help tools and techniques tend to be toast.
I decided to ask myself: What was it about Ann that I was fighting in myself? Where could I find common ground for the sake of my step-daughter? For the sake of peace? It was ten years down the line and I still felt critical, defensive and a need to be RIGHT. I tell myself I’m better than her.
Rings a bell.
I decided to have regular (imaginary) soul-to-soul conversations with Ann every night before bed. It would be an ongoing prayer in hopes of bridging our continental divide. I’d try, for once, to visualize Ann as a friend. A sister. Underneath the hairy heartaches, I believe we’re one human family. We’re mirrors of each other’s unresolved pain. Here was an opportunity to test my mettle.
Bill had told me a bit about Ann’s tough childhood. She and I had probably shared similar humiliation, rejection, loneliness. Who hadn’t? In our soul-to-soul convos, I told her I understood. That she was lovable, anyway. She was stronger than she thought. I saw her shoulders and defenses drop. Our eyes teared up. In the end, we hugged like sisters. Laughed over our pettiness.
And she’d apologize.
The next night, I started our conversation on motherhood. I’d silently criticized her parenting, a LOT. Now that I had my boys, I told her, I could better understand why she’d been a royal pain in the patootie. She’d been a protective mama bear. We commiserated about the demands and confusion of raising kids. I imagined the mayhem of being a single mom. I said I admired her. I was rooting for her. We ended up hugging and laughing.
Our conversations went on for several weeks. Often, I still regressed into finger pointing over some past insult. It was embarrassing how much I’d held onto. It wasn’t easy to let it go, but I’d be sure to end the visualization with us hugging and laughing.
And her apologizing.
As the wedding drew closer, I was feeling…better. Whether or not my prayers reached Ann was no longer the point. Whatever happened, I could step back and see her soul. Without the old defenses within me, I could remember the beauty within her. I hoped.
Our family flew out for the wedding. As we pulled into the parking lot at the reception venue where friends were helping to decorate, Bill said in shock, “There’s Ann.”
Huh? Oh no. Ambush.
I tried to shake off the nerves and put on a smile. I slammed the car door and, with determination, headed for Ann. But in my intense focus, I somehow missed seeing the tiny curb ahead. I’d built up enough momentum that when my clog caught the lip, suddenly I became a speed-walking projectile, careening straight toward Ann. Oh help.
My replacement hips and knees have little flexibility, so by the time I reached her, I was practically horizontal. As I felt myself going down, panic erupted.
But wouldn’t you know. The demon (er, darling) . . . actually caught me. Yup. I landed in her arms. She didn’t let me fall – she lifted me up. She straightened what had gone crooked.
The beauty of the metaphor was lost on me at the time. I felt like a clumsy idiot at the feet of my old foe. But somehow, together, we ended up . . . hugging. And laughing.
And I apologized.
The weekend went shockingly well. Ann was a kind hostess; she asked if my boys needed snacks; she offered me a quiet place to rock my youngest to sleep; she complimented Bill on his toast to the beautiful bride. Shut the front door.
As we flew back home, I scratch my oversized noggin in awe. My soul-to-souls had soothed their toughest target. Me. Who knows if Ann, too, had been praying for help. For healing. For her past and her ex. For the love of her only daughter. For soulful understanding across the great divide.
All I know for sure is that at the wedding table that day, as we dined on humble pie, a sweet peace was gratefully served up, too.