“It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire.”
When I came upon this line in Marilynn Robinson’s novel Gilead, I thought of my father, toward whom I held a deepening grievance through much of my life.
My father was a good man, a traditional and respected breadwinner, who left kinder and kitchen to my mother. He was an engineer operating in a black-and-white world, one with no gray edges, no poetry.
The older I grew, the more I resented his emotional absence. Though I spoke often with my mother, he rarely came to the phone. He never once asked about my work, thoughts, or feelings. There was ample sustenance in my life, so eventually I made my own way, leaving him to his silence.
Late in his life, everything changed. My mother sank into dementia, and he became her caretaker. He and I started having real conversations about our hopes, fears, and disappointments. We both expressed gratitude for this unexpected intimacy; yet I deeply regretted all the lost years: he was ninety-three.
We carry around all sorts of grievances, some petty, some legitimate. It is natural to resent an insensitive remark, unjust treatment, a father’s silence. But it can be wasteful and unproductive to take these affronts on face value, to infer ill will where there may be only carelessness or to assume a cold heart in someone who possibly speaks a different language and longs to be heard.