Recently, my daughters have been quoting Shakespeare:
Friends, Romans, Countrymen—lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. –Mark Antony
Why is it so easy to focus on a person’s negative traits? For me, I often remember the evil that lives on after the loss of a person, whether that is their physical life or their life played out within my memory.
A long time ago, I ran into a former friend. I was typing away on my laptop when she walked by, and she asked how I was doing. (The answer: fine.) Then she looked at my laptop, at my fingers still poised over the keys, at the papers scattered over the table. “Oh, are you in school?”
My stomach rolled. For whatever reason, I had a sudden inclination to stay silent, keep my writing a secret from her though not from anyone else. What would have been the harm in saying that I was writing a blog post? Or that I was working on querying agents for my first novel? Nothing.
Except—I would be forced to say what the novel is about, forced to explain that it includes (possibly) offensive material, forced to hear her response. In my imagination, I hear her say, in a tone as syrupy as sweet tea, “Well, I just have a spiritual conviction that I shouldn’t read things with sex or bad language.”
I had heard her say things like this many, many times during our friendship, and while I respected her stance, I disliked how her tone implied that everyone ought to hold her personal conviction. There were many other things, too: hurt and betrayal and careless words that deeply wounded me during a particularly difficult time in my life. It’s not a relationship that I care to salvage; we’ve both long since moved on. Only the memories continue.
I kept silent because of those memories. I kept silent because I remembered how oblivious she was to how her insensitive words cut me. I kept silent from my desire to protect myself.
I kept silent because, once more, all I remembered was the negative and nothing of the positive. The bad lived on in my mind, while the good was interred with the skeletal remains of our friendship.
Why remember the bad? Why not the good?
In our brief friendship, we played the same roles time and again. The lines were perfected and the storyline was firmly fixed in my head. My version of the story—I can’t know hers. It’s that story of hurt that rolls into my mind whenever I see her; even though I don’t hold bitterness against her, I still remember the hurt and still want to protect myself. I’m playing the role of former victim once more.
If only I forgot the lines of my script, stumbled out of my traditional role in this relationship, I might be startled at what emerged.
The play wouldn’t go on as rehearsed; it would be improv at that point. But it’s in those unguarded, unplanned moments that the truth is blurted out: I might find that I’m hurt, that I’m all too willing to be a martyr and too unwilling to confront her, that I’m still tied up with fear of her opinion over whether or not someone can read novels that have sex or bad language in them.
I might find that she honestly never realized how her words affected me or had any idea that they might be hurtful. I might find that she simply can’t see things from my perspective.
Or perhaps nothing of significance would be spoken.
Maybe, though, the bad memories would be laid to rest and the few good memories would live on in their place.