“She has her grief and care, yeah, yeah, yeah
But the soft words they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bear, yeah
You won’t regret it no, no…
Young girls they don’t forget it
Love is their whole happiness…
But it’s all so easy
All you got to do is try
Try a little tenderness”
“Try a Little Tenderness,” a song by one of my favorite Motown greats, dubbed the Crown Prince of Soul, the late Otis Redding.
Geez, I barely had time to enjoy the news that my friend MP’s ex received his karmic kick in the ass (see KARMA Baby!). Days later, MP called Alpha J and me with an update that took some of the sheen off our satisfaction.
“He has cancer and has been in a rehab facility for a month,” she told us about her former husband. “He called and asked if I would care for him when he’s released to go home; he’s so weak he can’t walk by himself,” she told us with a tinge of pity in her voice.
So when a dog shits all over your 30 year marriage and the ink is barely dry on your divorce papers, do you:
A) say, “Wrong number!” and hang up when he calls to ask for help;
B) tell him to go burn in cheater’s hell along with his five bimbo girlfriends; or
C) say you’ll help him, since for some 30 years you thought you had a pretty good husband?
This turn of events has started me thinking about sympathy and empathy and the toughest nut of all–forgiveness–in my own life. I remember my family doctor saying to me as my marriage disintegrated around me like a house on fire, “He’s so sick,” he said referring to my husband. “I feel sorry for someone that sick.”
I shot back, “That’s great, but right now I feel sorry for ME!”
On reflection, I get what he was saying. When someone is compelled to keep acting on destructive impulses over and over as the dopamine centers in their brain beg for more, there’s something worth pitying tied up in all that mess. But this mess is like a spider web, affecting everyone in my world–and I’m patient zero, responsible for not seeing through him, for not catching his destructive behaviors sooner, for trusting him with every ounce of my normally skeptical self.
To forgive him, I need to forgive myself first. And nearly five years since I opened his laptop and saw what I could not unsee, I’m no closer to forgiving either one of us.
So what if I were in MP’s shoes today? Would I grieve my ex-husband’s serious illness and perhaps early death? I can say, after pausing and taking a deep breath, that I would grieve deeply for my stepson and stepdaughter who have been in my heart and home since they were young kids. I would grieve the 1980s memory of the tall, lanky, bearded, sarcastically whip-smart guy from the office that piqued my interest as he passed me in the hall, and as I looked back for a second look, so did he.
About the third time I saw him after work hours, we looked around the bar where we’d been with our friends–and no one was left but us. Neither of us had noticed, and I will grieve remembering the feeling I had in those early days–the part that was fresh and unscarred and hopeful. I still wonder, as I sit here today, what happened to the man I thought would hold my hand and gently brush my forehead with his fingertips when my final days come calling.
And what happened is this, dear readers. He refused the safety net that was thrown to him in therapy and at a rehab center specializing in his type of addiction. He continued to lie and deny. And that’s the part that stops my sympathy and empathy in its tracks. I guess you’d say that I’m stuck.
But MP isn’t. I think something changed for her when her ex admitted making a bad trade, ignoring their relationship to concentrate on ones that weren’t worth the stack of nudie pics he possessed of the other women; I imagine a month in bed after chemotherapy will cause that kind of reflection in a man.
“I talked to my lawyer about my ex’s request–and she gave me some advice–‘Be kind,'” MP said. So what was once a contentious split of assets and homes and friends and country club memberships is now something resembling detente. “I’m going to tell him I’ll help him find some good nursing care, but that I can’t take it on myself,” MP told us, her voice sounding strong and sure as she does what’s right.
For both of them.
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