Last night, as I readied for sleep, I remembered an incident from years ago, that happened at a New Year's Eve party at a straight bar downtown. We typically celebrated in gay or gay friendly places, but this even we'd gone out with friends to a bar we didn't know but that they really liked. I wasn't in a wheelchair back then, but I've always been fat, so at most points in my life I haven't really fit into the places where I lived, worked or socialized. I felt a little uncomfortable because Joe and I were at least a decade older than everyone else and we weren't sure that our relationship, should it become known would make us targets.
But as the evening wore on and drinks were consumed, we all began to relax. Then at one point a woman at the bar, like me there to buy drinks, turned to me and said something unspeakably cruel to me about my weight and after lobbing that at me she laughed hard, like she'd been funny. She was on the outskirts of drunk but not quite there. Even though what she said had hurt, I paid her no attention and began using strategies I have taught myself to deal with situations like these.
About five minutes later she dragged her boyfriend over to me and told him that I was the guy at the bar she had told him about and then turned to me and said the same thing again. She laughed. He looked amused but also like he wanted to get her away from me quickly. This time I didn't stay silent. I said, and I remember this clearly, "You are a horribly mean and cruel woman. I suspect your friends fear you more than they like you." My words caught her and she looked as if she had been slapped.
Then her boyfriend managed to get her away and back to her crowd. It took several minutes for me to get my breath back. Then I saw her coming back to me, she was crying. She said that she wasn't cruel or mean and that she wanted me to accept her apology for what she said. I looked at her and said, "No, I don't accept your apology and I don't take back what I said. You attacked me, a stranger, just because I'm different. Get away from me."
Twice more she returned, each time more desperate for me to say that I understood she was joking, that she wasn't mean or cruel, that she was sorry for what she said. Twice more I asked her to leave me alone. Twice more I said that she had hurt me for no reason and I have no reason to accept that her apology is real.
Maybe a half hour later her boyfriend approached me and said that this whole thing was ruining her night and would I please just accept her apology. I looked at him and said, "No." I told him that it wasn't just her night that had been affected by this, but mine too. I asked him if they could just now leave me alone. He nodded.
At midnight as people were kissing she approached me for a kiss and I refused it. To be fair here, I don't kiss people I don't know no matter how drunk I am. But I really didn't want her to touch me, touch the body that she found funny, touch the body that she had held up to ridicule.
And then it was over. I said to Joe, who was of course aware of all of this, I hope she remembers this night and remembers how words can hurt other people and that those she sees as being below her can fight back.
All of this memory flooded back into my mind and I could remember everything, the sounds, the smells and, of course, her words.
Then there was me.
I refused her apology several times. I knew that she was distressed and wanted absolution and I didn't give it to her. I had been hurt. I was angry. I wanted to hurt back. And. I did.
I value kindness.
Kindness for all, not just the deserving, but for all.
I had said, almost as if cursing her, that I wanted her to remember that night, remember what she said to me, remember how it hurt me. I wanted her to reflect on the impact of her actions.
I didn't realize that I'd also cursed myself because I still remember that night. I remember it as the night that I was unkind and unforgiving and even cruel in reaction to someone who hurt me. I don't like the man I remember being very much.
Every year, for many now, my only resolution is to live in such a way that my memories are of a 'me' that I respect and a 'me' that operates in the world with some kindness, and some forgiveness, and some compassion.
I don't always succeed. I didn't yesterday.
But that's the thing with resolutions, you make them and make them and make them until you finally make them.
Enjoy your new years eve. Where ever you are. Make memories that will bring smiles to your faces ten or twenty or even thirty years later.
Sometimes you have to choose between being good and yanking someone out of their complacency.
I'm not saying you shouldn't reflect on your own reaction. That's a given. As Christians, we try to go by "forgive us OUR trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against US."
But you took a stand against an easy apology that would have been immediately forgotten by that woman, who could then go on thinking she'd made a minor social gaffe, and forcing her to THINK about what she'd said and what she meant. Maybe she got a chance to be ashamed of herself and her behavior. At some point Christ took a whip and cast the moneylenders out of the Temple.
Even He had his limits.
I don't know if I would have been forgiving either if someone talked like that to me. But maybe.. there are people I forgive, not strangers at a bar. But not forget. Have a happy New Year. I'm working overtime and then going to a New Year's Eve party with my son. First time in years I've done anything for the New Year.
Well written...shows what a bind it is, when people say that you must accept someone else's apology or else you will be harmed by the incident all over again. That advice has always seemed suspicious - too easily becomes another 'blaming the victim' for being distressed by an incident in the past....
Not forgiving someone who has hurt and embarrassed us right away, especially a stranger, is pretty human. Forgiveness is a gift to give, and giving it in that circumstance was not what you chose to do - your choice. The memory is yours, to do what you want to do. Today you chose to write about it.
It's good for me to think on - what am I carrying from the past that hardens my heart or keeps me trapped...
Hope the new year brings a year of health and joy to you and Joe, and all you hold dear.
For what it's worth I don't think you were cruel or unforgiving. I mean, maybe in your mind you could have been kinder, maybe in your mind you hated her and you feel like it would have been better if you had had purer feelings. But when it comes to your actions, I think what you did was the best thing. She didn't really care that what she did was wrong, she just couldn't take being called out on it and probably regularly pushed people into reassuring her that her behavior was okay when it wasn't. It's awful when people are like that. At best, maybe you have contributed to her realizing she needs to change. At worst, you at least didn't go along with it.
I don’t think you have anything to be ashamed about to be honest, that woman was awful and cruel to you for no other reason than because she felt like it. She was a bully and that includes her actions of trying to coerce you into accepting her (most likely) insincere apologies all night. Whilst I do think it’s important to forgive, I don’t think that it was in this case or at least I don’t think you had to forgive her. She was unspeakably cruel twice to a complete stranger, and then she continued to ruin New Year’s Eve for you, your friends and her friends. Instead of actually thinking about her behaviour, realising how utterly awful she had been to you and then removing herself from your night, she instead harassed you trying to bully you into accepting an apology. She carried on thinking she was the most important person in the situation, that her need to be forgiven was more important than the fact that she had hurt you. It seems clear that she had not learned anything from your words, and therefore she was not sorry and deserved no forgiveness.
I do think you need to forgive yourself though. You had a completely normal reaction to being hurt, and you were quite restrained in your behaviour as far as I’m concerned. Forgiveness is important, but I’ve always thought that the most important part of it is how it makes us feel better. It allows us to let go of the anger and the hurt, because letting those build up inside ourselves is never good. In a situation like this one, I’m not sure forgiving her would have allowed me to do that. Because it would have been coerced forgiveness, which would have made her feel better but would have made me angrier and more hurt. Which to me is wrong, because the bullied should never come out of such a situation feeling worse. Forgive her now, she’ll never know but it’ll allow you to let go of the anger and the hurt.
She wanted absolution, and that isn’t yours to give. She wanted the words, not caring about the actual force behind the words. I hope that night still haunts her, because only the ghost of that night can have made her kinder. If she was that cruel to you, a stranger, she was cruel to her friends and family. It is their forgiveness she must earn daily in penance for what you would not give her for free.
Being kind doesn't always mean being mild or pleasant in the moment. Sometimes the kind thing is a push that leads to growth. Hopefully this woman grew. You offered her that sort of kindness.
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