the extent to which we hurt each other

love letters

Last night I had a dream that I was sitting in my apartment alone when I felt this nagging sensation that I had neglected to do something. I searched under couch cushions and pillows, below tables and inside the fridge. Eventually, I pulled my chest of drawers away from the wall and discovered a box filled with the bones of pets I had long since forgotten. Where once I loved them, I had not fed them, I had not cared for them, and I had not even remembered they existed. Distracting me from the surprise of what I had uncovered, two small dogs revealed themselves by wriggling and squirming. I sifted through the decay to help them out of the box.

At the sight of these two dogs I was overcome by the guilt and grief of having forgotten. I crossed my apartment to a large sink and filled it with warm and soapy water. Tenderly and with great love and sorrow, I bathed each dog — one at a time — rinsed them, and washed them again. I tended to their wounds and applied oils to their fur. I fed them, toweled them dry and asked them for forgiveness. What struck me most, upon waking, was not the gore of the box that I had found, but the beauty of the forgiveness I had received in spite of it.

Recently during an extensive cleaning of my apartment, I came across a folder of letters and cards I’ve collected throughout my adult life. Most of them are from recent years, some of them date back to my college days. There is even a small collection of them, particularly meaningful to me, that stand out: they are beautiful love-filled cards from close friendships that have since ended. They are love letters that no longer apply. They are markers of the extent to which we hurt each other.

I have found recently that breaking up with a close friend – whether it is of your choosing or theirs — is one of the hardest and most painful kinds of break ups there is. in a romantic relationship there is at least a time in which you are evaluating the relationship to determine if this is someone you will love and be loved by forever. Friendships, on the other hand, are usually built on the premise that they have no reason to ever end.

Losing these two friends has taught me many things, like you can be incompatible with someone you love and you can lose the love of someone without ever really understanding why. It has also reaffirmed something I’ve known all along: I have a really hard time letting go. I have a hard time letting go of things that were said or how I was made to feel–of feeling misunderstood by those who were supposed to know me best. I have a hard time letting go of guilt and I have a hard time letting go of regret.

This hurt, those feelings and these memories become the things we sweep up into a box and tuck away and out of sight–perhaps with the hope that we will no longer feel the burden of them. These are the things that I neglect: my inconsolable feelings, the other person, their absence.

But as my dream reminded me, hiding things away does not guarantee forgetting, nor does it guarantee forgiveness or healing. In fact, maybe we cannot heal and move on until those feelings or those memories have been recognized, cared for, loved and set free. After all I did to them, those dogs still forgave me and loved me unconditionally. How do we show this kind of love and forgiveness to others who have hurt us? How do we show it to ourselves?

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