Sometimes, my life seems to divide into distinct periods. The current period, apparently, is one in which quarrels end. Perhaps that impression is simply the result of my wish to see patterns or progress in the random events of my life. Or maybe I feel there’s a larger pattern because my only part in events was to agree to them. But, in any event, in the last two months, I have seen two longstanding disagreements end, and feel better for doing so.
The first is a family matter. Never mind the details; they’re complicated and not mine to tell. Enough to say that, for the past thirty years, my part of the family hasn’t been talking to another part.
However, in April, a young relative from the other part of the family, who hadn’t been born yet when the defining moment of the quarrel occurred, contacted me, asking if I were my parents’ grandchild. I corrected her misapprehension, and an occasional email correspondence has sprung up. So far, we haven’t managed to meet (although not through lack of trying), but we probably will sooner or later. The young relative may also meet with one other member of my part of the family.
This new state of affairs, from what I’ve been told, doesn’t sit well with some people on both sides of the divide. But the quarrel was never more than indirectly mine, and I am not so petty as to extend it to someone who could not possibly bear any responsibility. To tell the truth, I’m cautiously pleased at the idea of maybe having another relative, since I don’t have very many.
The second case involves a friend from high school, whom I met again a few years ago. We corresponded for a while after we met, but the interaction, as innocent as it was, slowly soured. She cut if off with a curtness that I considered rude and unwarranted, and I immediately withdrew, too proud and hurt to ask for explanations. Once or twice, I did try to renew the connection, only to be met with silence, so after a couple of years, I stopped trying.
I was toying with the idea of making another effort (which frankly I probably would never have done) when she contacted me recently with an apology. Despite misgivings, I responded, and apologized for my part in the quarrel with a minimum of rehashing of what happened.
We are now Facebook friends – which can mean many things, but in this case seems to express a general feeling of goodwill so long as not much effort is involved. Nor do I think my former acquaintance is interested in the usual Facebook banter. We haven’t really talked, but I suspect that we’re both being cautious, and I appreciate the possibility that an actual friendship might emerge some day.
Neither of these episodes makes much change in my daily life. Nor can I claim to know the other people involved very well. Possibly, I will never know them better than I do now.
All the same, both episodes are gratifying in a way that is both unexpected and hard to express. Any feud, no matter how justified, seems spiteful and ungracious after a while. By contrast, its ending feels a general tidying of loose ends – as well as the triumph of the better side of everybody’s personality. That remains true even if nothing more comes of the reconciliations.
I don’t mean to suggest that I plan to forgive everybody I have a grievance against. In some cases (and if any of them are reading this, they know who they are), there would have to be a major demonstration of contrition before I would even consider patching up the quarrel – and I don’t think that any of the people I’m thinking of would be capable of such a gesture.
But these are the exceptions. With a certain pride, I have discovered that, for all my occasional temper, I would rather participate in the ending of a quarrel than share any responsibility for perpetuating one. My only regret is that I did not play a more active role. Still, it’s a good thing to learn about myself.