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Holding the Grudge

We've had dramatic explosions and shenanigans at our house this week. RT teen and IT teen, like Godzilla and King Kong, sparring it out over the metropolis. No actual blows fell, but homes were damaged and small people probably did go running, with debris falling around their ears.

The start of it was that RT teen thought the knocking sound was in his head, so didn't open the door. IT teen, not unreasonably on a dark, winter's evening, took exception to this and said so. RT teen took offence at the tone and raised voice and started name-calling. IT teen rose up to his full self-righteousness and pointed out a few of his brother's failings.

There ensued an epic rearing up of old hurts and scores, culminating in RT teen remembering everything IT teen had ever done to him. IT teen never knows when to leave well alone so he picked holes in this approach, drawing attention to the fact it was all ancient history and his brother was insane.

All of this happened while I was twenty five miles away, doing a lesson. I was in the peace and quiet of a student's dining room when the first text came in, followed by a few more, none of which I could answer properly as I was working. So, there I was, apart from it all, wondering if IT teen had smacked RT teen round the head with anything, as I had only heard from one and not the other.

I then had an anxious half hour until the end of the lesson. I needed petrol but felt I couldn't stop for it, in case the argument was continuing. I went home in a state of agitation and annoyance, wondering how it could be that two young men, in their late teens, could still act like five year olds.

I arrived home to an eery silence and worried pets. There was plaster on the landing floor from when IT teen had given his door a good kicking instead of his brother. Later I discovered the living room light had come to pieces too. I'm considering lending out IT teen as a mule to anyone who will take him.

So, old arguments, long forgotten in the passage of time, had resurfaced thanks to the door not being opened in time. It turns out that those arguments weren't forgotten at all, they've been swilling about in RT teen's brain all this time, fuelling his normal, everyday reactions to his brother and informing his behaviour in lots of little ways.

In other words, he's been holding onto past hurts and feeling like they were still current.

I found this a worryingly familiar reflection of how I deal with things myself. My mother was quick to remind me of all the times I've brought up ancient grudges I had against her, never to be forgotten, or forgiven, apparently.

I know them all, large and small. When the rest of life seems to swim away in an indistinct blur of faces and sounds, I can still remember clearly how my mother ate my lolly on carnival day, instead of looking after it. And it was the best lolly ever.

Funny how these events gain momentum and substance and are able to cling onto us, no matter what else we lose, as if they were of fundamental importance to our very state of being.

Perhaps they are? Do we remember them so clearly because our feelings were fully involved, for a change? Instead of our feelings being hard to fathom or floating out of reach, they were there, right in the middle of everything, flaring up.

I think it's important to note that the events I remember most, in terms of grudges - and the ones held onto by RT teen - are the ones where hurt was felt. Deep emotional hurt, as we saw it. No matter that there have been plenty of lovely lollies since that carnival day; no matter that RT teen and his brother have shared a lot of laughter since their tiny boy fights. The intense sensation of upset when we're younger is firm within us and can be looked at and felt and turned over in our hands as if it had just happened.

We get upset and angry all over again because the feeling is still so immediate. It may be irrational (yes, okay, it is irrational) but it has a hold over us that not many other things do.

The grudge, when filed away successfully, is a strong, long-lived creature, rather like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but with less to teach us about ourselves.

And that's where the sadness lies in this predicament: there is little to learn from holding our grudges. We can look at them as glimpses of our past situations and relationships, but we shouldn't invest in them ultimate trust and attention. We think they tell us the truth - they must be the truth as we feel it so strongly, right?

Maybe, maybe not. In RT teen's case, once it all spilled out, I was able to give him a different perspective on a few things that happened many years ago and he came out of the whole incident with a new light being shed on his past and his view of himself. It was difficult for him but, I think, revelatory.

Mostly, our grudges don't have this light shone on them, though. For one thing, people are probably tired of hearing us spout on about them. For another, they are our view of it all and however much we think we know about what happened and what everyone else thought and felt, we really know only our side of things.

People say that letting go of the past is essential in being able to face the future. I'm quite sure they are right, but they never really explain how you do this. Others say you have to forgive to be able to move on. Yes, that one might be possible, even if it feels like passing a kidney stone, but how do we forget?

The same people would say it's possible to forget, but we know they're talking through their behinds on that one. Forgetting grudges? Past hurts? Regrets? When they have such vivid life and colour about them?

I haven't managed that one yet, though gaining some perspective on them does help. I can still see it, the thing that happened that made me feel this way, and it's not always about carnival lollies, is it?

The best thing I can say is that, by having these faults in myself, I was able to help RT teen. I could understand what he felt and explain to him how to move beyond it a little.

Perhaps that's the best we can hope for sometimes, to be able to reach out and help someone else, even if we're still mired in our obsessions of the past. Or it could be simpler still, readers. Perhaps the real secret in this is to talk to people about our past grudges, our hurts and obsessions and see if they can do the reaching out and the helping.

Maybe they can or maybe it just comes down to being able to talk about it, one more time and with feeling. Then we can start to let the colours lessen and the hurt fade with time.


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