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Mending Fences

Let bygones be bygones, the saying goes. But letting go of a grievance you’ve held for months—or even years—is anything but easy. On the following pages, Ann Hood, once a champion at holding grudges, explains how she learned to forgive. 

By Ann Hood
Tulips next to a white picket fenceGreg Pease

No wonder it seemed natural to me to stop speaking to my best friend in college after she betrayed me—albeit in the most trivial of fashions. My university had a dance squad, the Ramettes, known in those days for wiggling their ruffled rear ends to the Rocky theme song during halftime. Lizzie (not her real name) and I used to laugh at how silly they looked. Then one night, as I walked down the hall of our sorority building, I heard that song playing and glimpsed Lizzie going through Ramette moves with a girl from the squad. I can still remember how my confusion morphed into hurt when I realized that she was getting ready to try out and had been practicing behind my back. In all our late-night talks, she had hidden this from me. I became angry and cold toward her, and eventually the friendship died.

As I watched Lizzie dance away from me, I felt like I had swallowed rocks—and not for the first time. Severing a long-standing friendship, no matter the cause, always filled me with sadness. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to forgive readily. Instead, I Fredo’d, pretending the person had never been important to me, pretending not to hurt.

After my daughter Grace died from a virulent form of strep throat in 2002, I was buoyed by friends and acquaintances. Except for one longtime friend I’ll call Bridget, who stayed away—for months, and then years. “Do you miss her?” my husband used to ask me. Miss her? I ached for Bridget, for her funny perspective and her strong hugs. “Then call her,” my husband would say.

But how could I? Bridget had abandoned me when I needed her most. Then one night in 2005 my doorbell rang and there she was. How easy it would have been to close that door. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Instead, I stepped back, opened the door wide, and let her in.

Forgiveness wasn’t easy. That night, Bridget sat at my kitchen table and talked about how she had felt. Immersed in my grief, I had never considered how people found out what had happened to Grace. Bridget was devastated to have learned of the death from the newspaper, as though she were a stranger to our family.

That wasn’t all: She had become paralyzed by the terrifying realization that if I could lose a child, so could she—and that fear had kept her away from me. Bridget told me she wanted to repair the friendship, something I had never attempted before. Even though this rift between us was so much deeper than the one that had precipitated my break with Lizzie, I wanted to mend it.

 
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