55. The Slow Learner

55. The Slow Learner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Slow Learner

Forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.

~Lewis B. Smedes

I never really knew why Jane Anderson resented me so much. To be honest, I never really paid much attention to her at all. I realize now that much of the blame over what she did to me was my fault.

When I got the job in the same office as Jane and four others, she had already worked there for over five years. I was five years younger, full of confidence and bright ideas and not shy about sharing them. Our boss liked my positive approach and soon promoted me. I moved to an office adjacent to Jane, and within a year I had moved further up the ladder.

I found Jane very quiet. I chatted away to her, but as time went by, got less and less response. I never gave her a second thought.

After two years, a fairly senior post arose; it offered more responsibility and a much higher salary. My husband Eric and I were hoping to move to a better house and a job like this would really make that possible. My boss told me that although the decision was not solely his, the job was more or less mine.

I went through a couple of interviews, and then was called in to hear the decision. I nearly fell through the floor when they very nicely told me that I had not gotten the promotion.

It wasn’t just disappointment over not getting the job, but how it affected our ability to move as well. Then my boss made a mistake. He told me the reason I did not get the job was that Jane had told them she was there for the long term. “I know you must be considering Joyce, because she is very good, but she told me she is only going to be here for another year and then she and her husband are moving abroad. I really feel that it’s not fair to the rest of us or to you, not to mention this.”

My mind drifted back to a couple of odd questions at the second interview—would I ever consider moving abroad, for instance. I had honestly answered that yes, I probably would, never thinking it as a real possibility.

My anger at Jane knew no bounds. She had lost me my promotion and my new home. I waited until the others had gone before I barged in on her. “You liar, you cheat. You lost me the job and my new home. I hope you rot in hell!” I marched out, and I resigned from the company, unable to face the thought of looking at her every day.

I soon found another job, but we lived in a small town. If I saw her coming, rather than cross the street, I would march toward her, and look her straight in the eye with all the hate I felt. Another year went by, and my husband and I moved away when he received a promotion. I saw her occasionally when I was home visiting my parents and she could never look me in the eye.

After fifteen years, I was visiting my mum when I bumped into Karen, a woman who had worked with Jane and me. I mentioned Jane and said that I had never forgiven her for what she had done. She nodded and said, “I can understand what you must have felt, but she did have her reasons. Jane had a sister, a lot like you, who was so much her parents’ favourite that it must have really hurt. Jane was quiet and worked hard for the five years before you arrived and suddenly you were there and everyone liked you and you got promoted quickly. I suppose she saw the situation with her sister happening to her all over again.

“The day she was told about that promotion, I came back to the office from somewhere and she was sitting crying at her desk. I knew she’d gotten the job and I couldn’t understand why she was unhappy. Then she confessed to me: ‘I did something wicked, I have to go and tell them what I did. She should have gotten the job.’ She poured it all out to me and I’m sorry Joyce, but I told her to say nothing. You were young and it was obvious you would find something else, but this was her only chance.

“Jane died of cancer about nine months ago, I had kept up with her and I went to see her. She always associated me with you because you and I were quite friendly. She never forgave herself for what she did because she asked me, ‘If you ever see Joyce, ask her to forgive me.’ ”

As Karen fell silent, I was stunned and felt a lump in my throat. “I wish I had known that. I wish I had taken the time to know her better.”

For many weeks after, I went over and over the situation. I began to see that I’d only thought of myself and how easy it would have been for Jane to resent me. It weighed on my mind. Finally I went back to town, to the cemetery where Jane was buried. I stood at her grave and with tears in my eyes I said, “I forgive you, Jane. Now I need you to forgive me. I was self-centered and uncaring, and although what you did was not right, it was little more than I deserved. I’m sorry and I wish we could have been friends.” I put flowers on her grave and suddenly felt as if something like a cord that had been tied around me had burst open. I felt free of not just resentment but anger too. I wiped away the tears. I had come to tell Jane I forgave her, but I left much happier because I felt she had forgiven me too.

I know it was fifteen years too late for both of us. Sometimes I still wish I could hug her and we could both say, “Sorry.” It would have been a much better solution. I learned so much from that visit to Jane’s grave.

That was many years ago now. Since then I have always tried to see someone else’s point of view and not bear any resentment. Life has been so much easier and happier for me as a result. I hope Jane knows that she has helped me become a better person. I might have been the go-getter in those days, but I have to admit I was a slow learner when it came to something more important, like forgiveness.

~Joyce Stark

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