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Going With The Grudge

I was never one to hold a grudge. In fact, that old axiom, “Never go to bed on an argument,” didn’t hold water for me. I thought I should always go to bed on an argument because by morning I’d forgotten what I fought with my husband about and therefore didn’t need to make up with him.

He, on the other hand, has always been a world-class grudge holder. The Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 when my husband was barely alive, yet he’s never forgiven Walter O’Malley for pulling up stakes and heading to Los Angeles. Ever since, he’s had it in for that team although they’re now our hometown boys. Do you want to know why the Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series? It had nothing to do with Yu Darvish pitching two lousy games but everything to do with Jon Greenleaf putting a hex on the team sixty years ago. Believe me, you don’t want to get on my husband’s bad side.

Take the time he was in graduate school cramming for an exam. To hear him tell it, the only thing that got him through the night was the promise of the Milky Way he had stashed in the communal freezer. When he had stood it as long as he could, he went to retrieve said candy bar and . . .it was gone! Apparently, one of his roommates had scarfed it, and the ensuing kerfuffle made Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination—which only led to WWI—look like a mere schoolyard scrap. He’s still steamed up about it all these decades later.

Sophie Hannah, who wrote How to Hold a Grudge, would consider Jon terribly unenlightened. Ms. Hannah looks at grudges as experiences to learn from. Her 10 Tenets of the Grudge-fold Path lays out a spiffy classification system to put one on the journey from dark to light. This goes hand in hand with her “grudge cabinet,” in which you build narratives around the times you were wronged, grade these incidents according to their traumatizing effect, process how you felt, and then expunge your negative feelings by forgiving the transgressors.

I say, Nuts to that! While growing up I was constantly exhorted to be the bigger person, take the high road, and turn the other cheek, and by and large I got with the program. But now that I’m middle aged, I’ve given myself permission to be small and low, and I’ve found I can be as petty as the next guy. Indeed, I can see the attraction my husband has felt for grudges all these years. I’ve come to luxuriate in my victimhood, self-righteously railing against perceived injustices, and, especially, happily plotting my revenge. Sophie Hannah is part of the advice/gratitude/be-your-best-self industry that insists we let go of anger wherever we find it. I’m sure these people have a point—but only up to a point. Holding on to a little anger can be so satisfying, so cleansing, so… human. Would you begrudge me that?

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Barbara Greenleaf
Barbara Greenleaf
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