The Grudge

Somewhere, buried in the annals of _The New Yorker_, there is a wonderful cartoon by George Price. It shows a man struggling to get rid of a vine which is taking over the outside of his house and has got him thoroughly entangled. From around the back of the house comes a wriggling vine-tentacle while, from the front porch, the man's wife shouts, "Watch out, George! Here it comes again!"

I have a grudge that keeps doing this to me. Regular as clockwork, it comes shooting out of nowhere and gets tangled up around my spiritual ankles until I tumble down, frustrated and furious with both myself and it. Sometimes it doesn't feel vine-like; sometimes, instead, it feels like some stocky, furry critter that keeps leaping unwanted into my arms yelling "Take me! I'm yours!" It comes back in other forms as well, but I know by the smell of it that it's still the same old @#$% grudge, whatever it's morphed into this time.

I keep handing the damned grudge over to God, saying "Here, God, you handle this; I'm just a Miserable Offender and I don't seem to be able to deal with it." Sometimes it goes away for a while and I think, whew, that's it. But invariably, it seems, God gives the thing a good looking-over and hands it right back to me, saying courteously, "Very interesting, child. Have fun."

Sigh. Grumble. Goddam grudge.

I profess to be a practicing Christian. I'm supposed to forgive as I want to be forgiven. And actually, I've forgiven any number of worse things than the thing-at-the-center-of-the-grudge. But for whatever reason, I can't manage forgiveness in this case. The best I can manage is a sort of (excuse me!) grudging acceptance that this is just the way it's gonna be.

Part of what's going on here is that I can't go to the person with whom I have the grudge and straighten anything out, because this is a person who does not "do" negative stuff in any way, shape, or form. Some people aren't able to handle any real threat to their self-esteem; they have egos like puffball fungi, large but explosively fragile. This, sadly, is one such person. I know that there's no point even trying to confront what happened. But I've never found a way of properly resolving my old anger about what happened, try as I may. I forget about it for long periods, but then there it is again, as though flash-frozen in time. Sigh.

But on another level, the problem is truly mine. Even if I could go to this person and say "You did thus-and-such, and it REALLY hurt me," I still don't want to straighten things out. I don't want a return to the _status quo ante bellum_, which was really pretty icky, now that I look back--and if that's refusing to be reconciled, I'm sorry but I just can't do it. A small part of me just wants to kick the person good and hard, right in the big fat puffy ego, and walk away. I want to stomp that old unsolved problem like rotten ice or bubble wrap, to give my old grudge-critter its sacrificial treat so that it will be satisfied and leave me alone.

There, Lord, I've admitted it right out loud in front of everyone, where I can't possibly take it back. I am not always a nice person. I can't make myself be always-nice; I can only keep an eye on my not-niceness and make sure it doesn't bite any innocent bystanders. Whatever the cause, my anger is still mine to manage; it's my problem, this grudge, and I can't ask anyone to solve it but myself and God.

Why does this grudge keep coming back to haunt me? I think it acts as a nucleus upon which things crystallize out of the general fog and muddle. The first, brightest, and sharpest of these crystals got given to me years ago, maybe a year or so after the grudge got going. I really couldn't fore-give the grudge, no matter how hard I worked at it. And that, I suddenly realized, made me a sinner. Whoa up, there: isn't that what I'm supposed to be? Aren't I supposed to be over here, standing with the tax collector, instead of over there, standing with the Pharisee? Strangely, I found that moment of realization intensely joyous: what I'd given up in my own puffy egotism, I got back in an immense, relieved sense of God's grace and forgiveness. And I thought, well, thank you, God, for that grudge; it let me see how much I need your grace, and how huge your grace really is.

I thought that was the end of the grudge, but it obviously wasn't. The thing's come back several times since then, and each time I've learned something new from having to struggle with it. That seems to be its place in my life.

So why, on Ash Wednesday, did I feel the thing hop back into my arms again? Why has God given it back to me to carry for a while? What desert am I supposed to be heading into, this Lent, carrying this @#$% grudge?

Clearly God wants me to go digging deep into my soul again, for some new sort of understanding. Perhaps this grudge represents a major pattern in my life. It originated in a dance of deception: a person telling me, with overwhelming charm, that "I am a deeply loving person" when in fact the "love" went no deeper than charm and covered up an abyss of neediness and passive aggression. I've seen that one more than once, and it's had a profound effect on my life. Call it the Big Lie: I've run into it over and over again. Is it this that I'm supposed to wrestle with this Lent? Is the grudge standing in for some other Big-Lie anger that I haven't dealt with? Or is it something else? I don't know.

I only know that sometimes God seems to take my grudge and toss it to me as the ref tosses out the ball to start the game. Whenever that happens, I find myself playing ball with my Wrangling Angel, a huge coppery being, no fluffy cherub but something grand, immensely powerful, and actually fairly dangerous. Angel and I first met and wrangled some years back when this very same grudge got tossed at me so hard it sent me staggering. We've played ball many times since. Angel's notion of a ball game is pretty close to the Irish game of hurling, played old-style, if that gives you any idea. Angel likes to play the way that the Lord played with Jacob at the stream at Peniel. It can get very rough, but that seems to be how I have to learn things sometimes.

Okay, Angel, whatever it is, let's get at it. Your kick.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 03 Mar 2001
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