Inspired by the depth of winter, I have been feeling unusually reflective about the loss of relationships in my life. Especially those which have ended in burnt bridges.
We all have had relationships that didn’t unfold as we had hoped. Conflict arose, as happens in every relationship, and rather than approaching each other with kindness and the desire to understand, fuel was added to the fire. Some relationships can move through the combustion, but many are unable to withstand the heat.
For some people, holding on to the story of what someone else “did to us” is more important than remembering the whole person … their complexities, their virtues, and the meaning they brought into our lives. It is far more difficult to resent someone when we recall the love, joy or depth they gave us. So, we pretend nothing good ever happened and we maintain our entitlement to hold a grudge.
Holding a grudge requires narrow sight. It takes the entire story of another person’s life and shrinks it down to a pinhole. It is like choosing to see the world in a single dimension, denying that there is more to the picture. And even though most people hold a grudge in protest against the other person, resentment diminishes our own physical, spiritual, and emotional health.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison
and expecting the other person to die.”
- The Buddha
As I review the collapsed relationships of my life, I see my accountability. I see the other person’s accountability. I see how the choices we both made impacted why and how the relationship ended. I see that, in some cases, there was no way to avoid the relationship’s end. And, I see that in some cases there was no way to avoid the relationship ending messily.
In this reflection, I have the choice to either see these relationships as transformative or as something to regret. I choose the former. People who challenge us, hurt us, or mark us in some way are our greatest teachers. They provide the foundation from which we can practice the transformative qualities of forgiveness, patience, compassion, and empathy.
When we wake up to the realization that we are not THE victim in a friendship gone awry, we begin to heal. Taking accountability for our part of the story and viewing others as whole, complex, wounded, and well-meaning are acts of grace. The sooner we acknowledge our role in a relationship’s demise, the sooner we can grow conscious to navigating conflict successfully in current and future relationships. Avoiding accountability for the chaos we bring to conflict will ensure many more burnt bridges in life.
My sadness for these long-passed relationships isn’t because of the chaos or conflict. It isn’t because I feel the need to defend myself or try to prove the other person wrong. I simply miss the moments of connection we shared.
It is a gift to release a grudge. It is a blessing to replace resentment with forgiveness. And it doesn’t matter if the other person does the same. All that matters is our choice to see the other as a whole, complex person with a meaningful life; and to feel grateful for the moments of joy and wonder shared during friendly times.
I am honored to have been the student to people who have passed into and out of my life, some leaving bruises and bumps in their wake, as I have left such for them. It is in the vulnerable place of pain that we have the chance to practice forgiveness, compassion, self-love and surrender.
Letting go is an act of self-love.