Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Treat Your Enemies Well

A melancholy and bittersweet day; it's taken me this long to get up the emotional capital to post substantively. (That, and the inevitable deadlines.)

I got back in touch with Alex, a close friend from high school, today. We've had sporadic contact since the 1980s but it's been at least ten years since we last spoke. Over that time his politics have become appalling and he's moved from boyish movie-star looks to solid PBS-executive respectability, but his essential humanity and kindness are unchanged. Drinking the Kool-Aid doesn't change DNA; you can look forward to jointly vociferous but fun blogging wars between he and I in the foreseeable future; he's already posted some knee-jerk liberal twaddle in the comments section. He will be crushed like a tiny insect, but I will love him anyway.

In the course of our occasionally raucous e-mail exchanges today, we discussed some trivia (the amazingly beautiful and talented young woman whom in those days we placed on a pedestal remains an amazingly beautiful and talented young woman today), some personal history (he has had a remarkable career in journalism, politics and public relations), and some sadness. One small sadness comes from one of our classmate's venture into the criminal world; a charming young woman who showed me considerable kindness in my awkward youth (reminding me more than a little, spiritually, of my beautiful bride today), she apparently took a wrong turning and is now in state prison on various fraud and forgery charges.

There was a much larger - because irreversible - sadness, which requires some background.

In high school, I devoted my extracurricular energies to speech and drama, and to journalism. (Alex was a friend primarily in the former realm - I could generally remember my lines and was willing to appear on stage, which in a small Oklahoma City high school was sufficient qualification for lead actor status, but Alex was really good.) My journalistic career, however, was less successful, principally because of the unbending malice directed towards me by one Perry McMahan, who by dint of getting there first was the school paper's editor, a position of great influence in the tiny kingdom of the school's journalistic infrastructure.

To this day, I am not sure why Perry bore me such ill will. I was an unimpressive figure at the time, but not particularly hostile to anyone, and as far as I recall, I gave him no reason for offense. But offense he did take, and mightily, and in very short order I returned his hostility with interest. (My general inclination, then as now, was to be friendly by default with everyone, but once attacked, to declare unremitting jihad.) Whatever fraction of the blame for this negative state of affairs lies initially with Perry, within weeks we were full partners in malice.

However, we lacked the power to destroy one another, and so we simply feuded, impotently, across the editorial table. This state of affairs went on for two years, and then we all graduated and went our separate ways.

I occasionally thought of Perry, though rarely, since I consider enemies a liability and prefer to focus my energy on my assets. Over the years, however - and with my bitterly resentful acceptance of the truth that we must forgive to be forgiven - I began to desire to reconcile with him, to bury whatever hatchets still stood between us, and to de-energize this destructive past. As our twentieth-year reunion approaches, I realized that this would be a golden opportunity. People usually approach their 20th high school reunion with positive feelings of gladness to see one another, rather than with a one-up attitude of proving their success, and I hoped to exploit that in order to try and negotiate a peace. (If he even remembered me, of course.)

Well, today Alex put the kibosh on that hopeful plan.

Perry McMahan died several years ago in New York City, where he was working for the Village Voice. There will be no reconciliation. There can be no forgiveness. I will carry this negative relationship to the grave. Wherever he is in a spiritual realm, he may well forgive me, and I him - and I shall certainly pray for him - but in this world our relationship remains one of bitter rivalry and anger, and most damningly, it is for no good reason.

This is part of the melancholy sadness of life. Things happen which we wish to reverse, but we are powerless. We do not control our fates to the degree we would like. I can be resigned and philosophical about this; this is not the first thing I would wish to fix which will remain broken, nor will it be the last, nor the greatest in magnitude and power.

My sadness is magnified, however, by the knowledge - by the sure and terrible knowledge - that I could have sought Perry out at any time in the last 20 years. Even if I was not able to befriend him, even if our relationship remained at bottom sour and harmful, at least I could apologize for the wrongs I did him. At least we could have shared a laugh at old battles and how unimportant they seem now. At least I could have tried. But I didn't try. I waited. I figured there would be better opportunities in the future. I sat on my rear end and let him die without even attempting to find him and to fix things.

And so, my friends, as trite as it may be, please - take my example to heart. Please, find the enemy whose existence continues to drip acid in your heart - and find a way to peace. Heal a wound, turn malice into camaraderie and remembrance. If nothing else, forgive and forget.

Do it today, before your Perry finds his peace alone, with you as a bitter memory instead of a healed wound.


Anonymous said...

Well said, old friend. Peace.

mythago said...

I'm sorry, Robert.