Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Soften

Dear Hilary,

I hurt someone. I didn't mean to, and I didn't realize at the time that what I said and did, and how I said it and did it, were hurtful. Maybe I might have noticed if I had been paying more attention, but I was wrapped up in my own heart and mind and I didn't see it. She told me that it had been hard. I am still reeling from the news, not sure what to do or if there is anything I can do, since the situation has passed and things have changed. I feel paralyzed.

The Hurtful

Dear The Hurtful,

What a difficult situation. There are several aches going on in your letter, several moments of sadness and worry. The knowledge that you have hurt another person doesn't sit well inside any of us. And that, alongside knowing that it's over, and you can't change your past actions, alongside wondering what on earth you should do now that you know. I feel your aches.

Take a deep breath. That is almost always the first step when we feel a piece of news punch us in the stomach. Breathe for me - in, and out, in and out again. We are tempted to crumple and break apart at the first words - "I need to tell you something," and it's understandable. But it won't help you listen, love, and it won't ultimately help you change. Let the news go through you, feel its weight, let it enter and roar and drown out your internal noise. But keep breathing.

You must be brave, Hurtful, here just as in moments when you must be the one confronting. Being confronted with something difficult requires courage too. It requires that you open yourself to accepting that your actions have consequences, just like every action in the world. What you have done, and said, and what you have forgotten to do and say, it has touched others. Here, and now, you are confronted with the realization that it touched in a hurtful and difficult way someone you love. So you must open yourself to that, and be brave as you listen.

I know the temptation is to be defensive, Hurtful, or to be afraid, or to hide. I have tried them all. I still instinctively react that way often. But if I have learned anything about hearing the hard truth about how you have hurt another person, it is this: it can soften you. It can be a moment where you give up the idea of who you imagine you were in that situation, and reckon with who you were, period. Who you were to your friend. Who you were to others like her. Who you were to yourself. This will be hard. The idea of yourself is always so much more glamorous and lovely than what must have actually happened. Letting go of that idea of who you were will hurt a bit. It will ache. You must allow that.

This is, if you choose it, a moment of petals-towards-the-sun-again growing. This is, if you choose it, where you spin yourself around toward the warmth of the truth and you let it soften and shape you. I know there is a sense of paralysis now that you have the information in retrospect. You probably think, well, what can I do now? It's over, and I can't rewind and change what I did. I can't fix it. But I urge you to consider whether the point is fixing what has come before, or if the bigger point, the point you must carry with you, isn't really about how you go on to know and love and cherish this person and ultimately all people?

Ache with the past, that it is unchanging. Ache that it slips from us far too soon, before we can ever sufficiently undo it. And get low to the ground and ask for forgiveness. Admit her hurt into you, and ask that she forgive you. But do not ache with what has happened forever. Instead let this hard truth about the past soften you. Let it teach you how to love your friend better.

And, sweetheart, let it turn your petals towards the sun. 


PS. I'm linking up with Joy over at Joy in this Journey for Life:unmasked this week, where we share the messy and the beautiful. Won't you come join us, and share your stories too? 

Life: Unmasked


  1. This is SO very difficult. Making something right and then moving forward, taking someone at their word when they forgive -- that they really won't hold it against you - it's a risk. It isn't safe. But it's necessary. 

  2. Hilary! Love the wisdom here. Beautifully written, friend.

  3. Thank you, Sarah. I'm always so glad you're here.

  4. Joy - yes, it is so difficult. I am still very much in the process of learning this, and trying to understand how to trust forgiveness and moving forward. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  5. It is such a hard thing to realize you've hurt someone unknowingly.  I love how you ask yourself difficult questions and answer back with such wisdom.  Amazing.

  6. Hi Jamie - thank you for stopping by! Yes, it is so hard to realize that our actions have hurtful consequences, but I am hopeful that by asking these questions, I might be able to make my way towards wisdom. Thank you so much for your encouragement. It means the world to me.


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