The Power of Bitterness

Over the holidays, I spent several days in the company of an elderly woman. A bitter elderly woman. For hours on end, she recounted the myriad disappointments, frustrations, failures, and mistakes visited upon her by her family. The ways they abused her kindness, how they ignored her advice, and her heartbreak at their folly. Each member of the family was publicly excoriated, in dramatic detail, for their actions. Even those of thirty years past.

Her mind worried these offenses as though they were the rosary. Over and over, a never-ending stream of grievances. Each bead examined again and again, until they shined for all to see. Her failure of a family, the ruin of her hopes.

And looking at her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, I had to wonder if her offenses were real or imagined. Sure, we all make mistakes and disappoint our families. But is that the test of life, of character? Is our purpose to fulfill the demands and expectation of our forefathers?

This woman’s family is filled with hardworking, kind, generous individuals, with an exuberance for life that’s contagious. They’ve had more than their fair share of disaster, pain, and failure. And here is their matriarch, furiously abusing them for getting on with their lives. Rather, for not following her exacting demands.

And there I was: listening, absorbing her ire. In instances, agreeing with her. Shaking my head with dismay, taking on her offense and judging her family, my family, cruelly.

And that is the power of bitterness – it’s contagious and it infects every area of one’s life.

This family that I love, that I adore, deserves better from me. They are, to a person, loving, generous, kind individuals. And they welcomed me with open arms, neuroses and all.

So, here is my resolution: To think, speak, and behave kindly to others, especially my families. To diffuse bitterness when possible, and to ignore it otherwise. God, help me.

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