By Helga Doermer
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“Thanks for showing me the ropes. I don’t need your help anymore.”
Stunned, I didn’t know how to reply to the girl I had considered my best friend over the previous four years. What had I done? There had been no warning that something was wrong with our relationship. I walked away in shock. I couldn’t even cry.
The daughter of our new minister, she was a stranger to our church when I first met her, a few years earlier. Close in age - we were both twelve - it seemed quite natural for me to approach her and befriend her. She readily responded to my invitation. Over the next few years we frequently played together, dreamed together and shared our fantasies. Our friendship blossomed. When she dropped her bomb, it seemed to come from nowhere and penetrated so deeply, I wasn’t even aware of the depth of the wound. By that time, she was well-acquainted with the other members of the youth group. She flourished and become a popular someone who frequently basked in the spot light of center stage. Meanwhile, weighed down by a broken trust and suddenly uncertain of myself, I faded into the shadows and silently looked on from the periphery of a group that I had once been an integral part of. When she finally married and moved away, it mattered little to me. At some level, I may have been relieved.
Years later, when we were both mothers of adolescents of our own, we came face to face at a women’s retreat. My intent was to stay out of her way. When she approached me, I could feel the shock waves of the old wound surging through me. My response to her greeting was polite, but wary. When she pursued the conversation, by asking how I was and asking about my family, the same wariness framed my answers. With no real interest, but a sense of obligation, I inquired about her well-being and that of her family. Throughout the weekend, she spoke to me whenever she saw me, even though she seemed to have an awareness of my lack of warmth. It was almost as if she was attempting to work out a puzzle, and was searching for the missing pieces. I had no intention of enlightening her. My guard remained up in her presence. She would not be given the opportunity to hurt me again.
My discomfort in her presence was so great, that after that weekend I lived with a sense of dread of running into her again. She had moved back to the city and belonged to the same church conference, so it seemed inevitable that our paths would cross. It was at this juncture that the root of the wound surfaced in my consciousness. Something needed to be done. The feelings of anxiety and antagonism needed to be addressed. Walking into every conference activity loaded with the apprehension of a chance meeting could not go on. Finally, I could bear the tension no longer. Compelled by the Spirit, I wrote her a letter, at last responding to the insensitive words she had spoken so long ago. I gave voice to my feelings; including my need to forgive her, to free myself from the power I had given her to hurt me. The writing was cathartic. The dread of meeting her dissipated.
After two years of silence, a soft pink envelope arrived in the mail. When I saw her neatly printed return address in the corner, my hands began to tremble. Unable to imagine why she would write after such a long time, I could not open the envelope immediately. Bracing myself with deliberate, slow, deep, breaths, I finally gathered up the courage to see what was inside. The letter surprised me. It began with an apology for the delayed response. It continued with the hint of an invitation to mend the rift in our relationship. The message was to call. I could not do it. Rather than racing to the phone, my response was a cautious note. It was to give me much needed time to compose myself and prepare for our first intentional meeting after twenty-five years of estrangement.
She was the first to initiate person to person contact. Two phone calls later, we made arrangements to meet. It had been a little more that two months from the time I received the letter that we finally saw each other. Our meeting place was symbolic – a coffee shop midway between our homes. Though both of us experienced the need to get together, we also experienced some apprehension. Our nervousness was apparent as we took turns getting our coffee, then fussing with the cream and sugar as if we were partaking of a sacred ritual. It also took a while to get comfortable in our seats. It was only then that we began to observe the formalities of greetings. Gradually we eased into conversation about our families, our present lives, and our faith. Finally, we addressed the situation that had caused the rift between us. For the first time I heard what had compelled her to abandon me so callously out of the blue. Still a residual tension lingered. The clock moved on. When the time we had allocated for our meeting had run out, we both knew that the last moment could make the most significant difference to our relationship. It was as if we simultaneously set aside our caution, rose from the table and reached out to each other in a spontaneous embrace. Years of separation were spanned. An old wound was healed, with an understanding born of maturation and the willingness to risk trusting again.
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