As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself in the position of once again looking back at the year that’s gone: the good, the bad, the things I should have done and the things I could have done without.
Over the holidays, I made time to call several of my relatives and friends all around the world to greet them a Merry Christmas. There was one call in particular that I was dreading, because I wasn’t sure if it would even be received.
You see, my brother and I somehow managed to get into a stupid argument that got blown way out of proportion last Thanksgiving, of all times.
He took exception to the tone of voice he claims I always use when he was asking me a question. I took exception to the fact that he asks questions incessantly and unnecessarily, even when he already knew the answer, just for the pleasure of annoying me.
He spent the last two days of our family vacation barely making eye contact and ignoring me. My questions and tentative peace offerings were met with either disdain or the occasional grunt. I told myself I didn’t mind, that I was grateful for the reprieve from the constant teasing and torment.
What a pile of rubbish. Of course, I minded.
I minded because, first of all, we were on a bloody vacation. It was really awkward having to pose for all these photos and smile through my teeth when I was fully aware that the person standing next to me really hated my guts.
I minded because my brother and I are based in different parts of the world, and we see each other once every couple of years at best. It seemed such a shame to waste all that time we’ve been given fighting over something so inconsequential.
I minded because the last time my brother got that upset with me, he didn’t speak to me for two whole years. Yep, my family (especially the men in my family) take passive-aggressiveness to a whole other level. They don’t do shouting matches or throw plates at each other. If you’ve wronged them, you cease to exist for them until they’ve gotten the hurt out of their system.
I minded because I knew I could have done so much better. I could have been more patient, more sisterly, more understanding of his innate need to annoy me because in a twisted way, he really just wants my attention.
I minded because I love my brother, even when I don’t like him very much. We’ve always had a far more complicated relationship compared to that which I have with my sister. I think in some ways the distance works for us because it allows us to only remember the things we like about each other. Its the reason why we’ve gotten along so much better since I’ve moved to London.
In our case, absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder.
Most of all, I minded because this wasn’t the first relationship that I’ve managed to damage in the latter part of 2018. It was only very recently that I’ve managed to hurt a very good friend’s feelings to the point where she’s ignored any overtures I made ever since to make up for it.
That was warranted, to be fair. What I did, while not unforgivable, certainly let her down to such an extent that she is justified in hating me and shutting me out of her life completely. I came out of that experience feeling like I was losing my equilibrium.
I think that may have been the moment when I took a long hard look at the mirror only to realise I really did not like the friend and person that I was becoming.
I have since resolved to do better. And the first step towards healing, the key thing really, is being able to apologise and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness. Its such a scary thing, to ask for AND to offer. And the closer the relationship is, the harder it seems to be to say I’m sorry. Its difficult because I sometimes feel, when someone apologises to me, that they’re not as sincere as they should be. That they’re only paying lip service, and apologising out of some societal obligation to do the right thing.
You see, in my family we’ve always been raised to believe that actions speak louder than words (ironic, seeing as how much I love words!). I’ve never heard my dad tell me how much he loves me. BUT. When I was younger and sulking to the point of tears because all my friends had their own mobile phones and I was feeling left out and inferior because I didn’t have one, he saved up most of the money he had at the time and took a special trip to the city for the sole purpose of buying me my own Nokia 3300.
He never held this over my head in the years in between, and I only found out about this story when I was working and earning my own money. You can imagine how small and selfish I felt at the time. Anyway, my Dad doesn’t say much (and when he does he often gets it wrong and inadvertently hurts my feelings), but his actions have always made me feel protected, supported and loved.
So on Christmas Day, I got on Facebook Messenger and made a video call to my recently estranged brother so I can greet him a Merry Christmas and to force him to accept me back in his life. And to be honest, there was a moment when I thought he wouldn’t even take my call. But as soon as he did, I knew we were going to be alright.
He knew how symbolic a gesture it was for me to make the first move. And I knew it was just as symbolic that he took the call. We didn’t need sappy words of apology, and I will kill myself if he ever reads this saccharine and sentimental post, but our actions were enough to get that relationship back on track.
It was the best Christmas present I received this year.
Of course its easier with family, isn’t it? Nothing short of murder can sever the blood ties that obligates them to loving and accepting you and forgiving you time and time again when you mess up.
Its different when its someone who is part of your life by choice, rather than by blood. If you think about it, its a relationship that’s built on mutual understanding, trust and shared memories alone. There’s no binding contract apart from the promise that you will always have each other’s backs. What happens when you fail to fulfil the obligations of that relationship?
I’ve never really thought about it. I think I just took it for granted that there’s no transgression so big that its beyond forgiveness. I’ve always said, rather glibly, that I can talk my way out of anything. This illusion came crashing down in flames as I sat waiting – for three days – for a reply on messenger that never came.
I had hoped that by the time I wrote this blog it would have a happier ending, and that I can put a period at the end of the sentence and say I’ve learned from it and we’re moving forward. But that’s not the case. And its been a really hard pill to swallow.
Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my father’s book and let my actions speak louder than my words. Either way, its been a very humbling lesson to learn this year that the road to forgiveness is a hard one, and some of us may never get there at all.