Friday, February 25, 2011

Heaping Coals

There are many moments in my lifetime that are poignant  life lessons. Some are humorous, while some are a little more serious, such as this lesson about heaping coals on the head of your enemy.

I was married at a very early age. That marriage was quickly followed by a baby, of course. My husband, Jim, was 18 and I was 16, with a baby boy , doing our best to make it on our own out there in this big, scary world. We had minimal help from family and the majority of our friends continued on with their child-free, single lives.

We had struggles, tender moments, laughter, stress, tears....we were living a real-life John Hughes story filled with teen-age angst. It is a storyline that always goes a little something like this:

Act One, Scene One:

Boy meets girl, girl is shy but interested. Boy acts goofy to win over the girl and they soon become an item destined to only last a week or two according to his best friend and the hopes of her best friend and the prayers of both sets of  parents. Boy and girl defy the odds and last longer than 2 weeks while discovering the highs and lows of teen-age love.

Act One, Scene Two

Fast forward to a year after this picture was taken and you'd see a baby in the arms of a tired new teenage mommy and a stressed out new barely-adult  father trying to make ends meet for his new little family. And everything is perfect, just like in the movies, right?


Flash Back:

There is always a hero or protagonist (Jim) and supporting character (me) and the ever-dreaded antagonist(that scourge of a woman in EVERY movie you see that tries to move in on the guy she can't, or shouldn't, have).

Now, while I admit that a movie with this type of script would be otherwise boring as hell without the drama of another woman trying to move in on a married man, I'd quite prefer to keep that scenario out of my life, thank you very much.

Public Service Announcement
But, I don't get to script my own life. If I did, everything would be perfect.....
All the time.....
And I'd never learn anything valuable.

Act Two, Scene One

Right around the time of our first wedding anniversary, Jim had started a new job in retail auto parts. His schedule was insane and he was gone all hours of the day, and sometimes nights, while he assisted in establishing and opening a new retail store in our area.

Stage Left, Fade In:

Enter our antagonist, Vickie ( I've changed her name for this blog)

Vickie was a bit older than Jim. She was pretty, confident, fit, and very aware of the affect she had on men. I instantly felt threatened by her and my self-esteem plummeted every time I was around her.

And despite the fact that Jim came home every night ( usually, but not always after he'd clock out) I still knew that this woman posed a threat to me and my family despite Jim's insistence that she wasn't. But the subtle signs were there; glances, laughs, a beer after work. And the not so subtle signs, like the puppy she gave him and the stolen kiss after work.

Act Two, Scene Two

But, as in all good chick flick movies, the guy makes the right decision, puts the potential  "other woman" in her place and professes his love for his wife and chooses his family.

 Intermission ~ Dramatic, yet romantic, music

I was relieved when Jim changed employment and I didn't have to be tormented by the "what-ifs" of their working together anymore. We moved out of state, taking the puppy with us, and forged on with our lives leaving that unhappy little marriage hiccup in our wake as we fled.

Fast forward another five years or so and we find ourselves back in the same town we had fled from. A little older, a little wiser ( not much), a couple more babies, a few more responsibilities and Jim working in a promising new career.

Act Three, Scene One

Everything was moving along just fine until one day when Jim says from across the dinner table,"You'll never guess who the new cashier is at work".

And he was right! I guessed and I guessed and I never did guess right! I guessed until I ran out of names. Jim must have anticipated what would be coming next because I saw him cringe a little when he said the name Vickie. I saw a mixture of red and green when he spoke her name; fury and jealousy raged within me. I was literally speechless and I think I clenched my fork to the point of bending it a little.

After some thought, and some time to digest my situation, I realized that  there was nothing I could do than fight this fire with fire, I made sure I was dressed to the "nines" when I went into his work the next time. I would make my stand, mark my territory, and just let that Vickie know that I am still the top alpha-female  around here and she'd best recognize her place!

Act Three, Scene Two

I made use of every visit to Jim's work to establish my place. In addition to shooting her dirty looks in her work place, one time I found myself at the great advantage of stumbling upon her and her date at the bowling alley one night. As I walked by her and, no doubt a married man, I piped off with some really hurtful remarks about her being a home wrecker and  having a cocaine addiction! The shocked look on both of their faces was priceless! I showed her! I felt so proud of myself; considered myself to be quite witty, really, as I had dissed her in the rhyme while I was at it! I loved it and really felt like I had gained the upper hand! So why was it that although I had won the battle, but the victories were hollow? Why did I feel like I was losing the war?

Looking back, I realize I must had looked like an incredibly ugly person to Vickie and the rest of the world. I don't know how Jim put up with me. My jealousy and insecurity were consuming me and I wasn't liking the way it was making me feel. Every day was lived with a hatred towards this woman and how she had tried to step in on my marriage years before. She wasn't doing anything against me now, but it didn't matter to me. The damage had already been done. All the painful memories of her selfish ways were boiling in my veins and rising to the surface and I was slowly, but surely, destroying myself . All the while hurting her really didn't make me feel any better.

Act Four, Scene One

One day, I confided in a friend of mine, asking her what I should do about all this jealousy and these hateful feelings! I didn't like the person I was becoming.  I just wanted to hurt Vickie and make her feel just a fraction of the pain she had caused me. But nothing was making me feel better.

My friend listened to me as I told her the history of my pain. She then provided me with her advice: "Ask her to forgive you," she said.

FORGIVE ME???? I was to ask her to forgive ME??? when SHE was the one that knowingly tried to break up MY marriage??? WHY IN GOD'S GREEN EARTH WOULD I EVEN BEGIN TO ASK HER TO FORGIVE ME !!!??? SHE was the one who had wronged me !

I was fuming and was about ready to leave my friends house in a full-on temper tantrum when she asked if she could explain to me why forgiveness was my solution.

My friend explained that, as stated in the Bible (dont' worry, I'm not going to thump you with a Bible here...but setting my references) Romans 12:20 "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  My friend explained to me that if I would ask Vickie for forgiveness, it would make her feel guilty and she'd not be a threat to me any longer. I was not buying this pile of kee-rap! There was no way this was going to work! Was my friend crazy? Even scarier, was I crazy enough to listen to her?

Act Four, Scene Two

Well, the very next day, I put on my big girl panties and headed off to Jim's work for the big showdown. This was NOT going to be an easy task. I swallowed the lump mounting in my throat and approached Vickie's counter. She had an exasperated look on her face like she knew I was going to belittle her again.
I took a deep breath, looked her in the eye, and asked her to forgive me. She was instantly puzzled at my request for forgiveness and her defensive exterior melted and she started to cry. (At this point, I am seriously wondering if I'm being punked, because it can't be this easy, right?)

Just as my friend said it would, Vickie was overcome with guilt and through her tears, she asked me to forgive her for all of the pain she had put me through years earlier. I was at a loss for words (which doesn't happen very often, folks). We exchanged apologies for all the past transgressions towards one another and I went my way and she went hers. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. Heaping coals on the head of my enemy had really worked !!! Amazing !!!


Now then, if this story ended here, I'd say I had learned a very valuable life lesson as well as a pretty good conflict resolution strategy. But, my schooling in humanity had only just begun....

With the coal heaping being a huge success, I was no longer obsessed with making an appearance at Jim's work to solely state my existance. A few weeks, or perhaps even a month, passed before I acknowledged Vickie again.
One day, from across the dealership floor I could see that Vickie was looking a little frumpy, minus her long, beautiful hair! I kinda chuckled out loud, like most jerks do, and said to Jim, "OH MY GOD, what in the world did Vickie do to her hair? She looks awful ( chuckle, chuckle, smirk, I am awesome and so observant..and now I'm prettier ).

Jim looked at Vickie, then looked at me without much of an expression and said, "Vickie didn't do anything to her hair. She has breast cancer and she doesn't want to wear her wig anymore."

Silence. Absolute silence as Jim turned back to the car he was working on and I stood there feeling like the biggest a-hole that ever walked the planet. I had been so consumed with my own issues, I hadn't even noticed that she had been wearing a wig the past few months. I hung my head, turned and walked right back to my car.

I did manage a smile and a wave to Vickie before I left that day. It's the last time I really remember interacting with her. She had moved on and another cashier took her place.

A few months later Vickie passed away. The victim of breast cancer at the age of 29. Her 28th year on this planet was filled with pain, fear, uncertainty..and a bully. How sad.

I sometimes think back to this whole experience; about how mean I was to her during her last year on his earth; I'm not very proud, I assure you. I acted poorly and hope to never be like that again.
I had been bullied as a child and reverted back to using that very behavior when I felt threatened. I admit that sometimes I still resort to some bad habits when I feel threatened or my self-confidence had taken a beating here and there. Remembering this experience usually brings me back to reality.

The most important lesson I learned through this experience was the power of forgiveness.
I had asked Vickie to forgive me and  in turn, that provided her the opportunity to forgive herself for meddling in my marriage, maybe not one of her finest moments, and the opportunity for me to extend my forgiveness to her as well.

But when you really stop and think about this story, I realize that if my friend had not been so adamant that I heap some coals on Vickie's head and find freedom from my consuming hatred, Vickie would have died without my resolving my issues; without my forgiving her. Vickie would have died with her guilt and I would have, to this day, harbored those feeling of hatred towards her.

In heaping coals on the head of my enemy, I did, indeed, set myself free. What a gift she gave me on that day when she asked me if I would forgive her. What a life-lesson. Thank you, Vickie, for that gift.

RIP, Vickie.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, I thought I already posted but it didn't show up. So I just wanted you to know I'm reading your stories. I remember this. As I do, many of them. Keep up the great work. We can all learn lessons here. Thanks for sharing pieces of yourself.
    I love you.