Dying to Myself

In the summer of 2014 I produced a play I had written, and it received two reviews in the local press. One was the best review of my career as a self-producing playwright. The other was one of the most malicious reviews of any play which I’ve ever read. It was, in fact, so harsh, that portions of it (which maligned the physical appearance of one of my actors) were subsequently retracted. Needless to say, I was furious with the editor who had allowed this review — which violated every reasonable standard of journalistic integrity — to be published. Because this editor is highly active in the local theater scene, I have lived in dread of the day when our paths might cross. I wasn’t sure I could be civil toward him. He did, after all, do everything within his power to destroy my reputation as both a writer and a producer, and for no reason which I was ever able to discern, especially since it was highly out of character for him.

I am not someone who is prone to carrying a grudge. Anger is exhausting, and I generally have better things to do with my time than to brood over that which can’t be changed. It’s so much easier to simply let go of it. But in this particular instance I have found that my anger has smoldered beneath the surface, still giving off heat and smoke every time I check to see if it’s still there. I am, after all, only human.

Imagine, if you can, how I felt when, a few days ago, I was made aware of the fact that this person has been diagnosed with an illness which is typically terminal.

If you think I was celebrating this news, you’d be gravely mistaken. Because it exposed a part of me which I don’t particularly like, a part of me I’d rather not face.

As a Christian, I am admonished, not simply to forgive my neighbor his trespasses, but to actively love my neighbor. Even when my neighbor is my enemy. Especially when my neighbor is my enemy.

There are those who insist that it is impossible to love one’s enemy. I’m here to tell you that it’s not impossible. But it hurts like hell. It requires swallowing your own righteous rage. It requires digesting your own vitriol. It requires self-examination of the most excruciating sort. And it’s not something that happens in one fell swoop.

So I find myself trying to process this event. How many times have I wished ill upon this person, even if it was in a ill-defined, vague sort of way? I’m consumed by the shame of knowing that part of me, even now, wants to point my finger at him and tell him: “See what you get for hurting other people?” This impulse is, without question, abominable. And, yet, it is within me.

Once when I was in high school, I was standing with a friend of mine on the sidewalk outside the school at the end of the day. Someone drove into the parking lot at what seemed like 90 miles per hour, recklessly endangering everyone in his path. I turned to my friend and said: “I hope that jerk crashes.” Two second later his car slammed into the cafeteria. Fortunately no one was hurt. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson. But, again, I am only human.

So how do I process this? A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help this person cover what are certain to be prodigious medical expenses. But by contributing to that would there not be some part of me doing it for the wrong reasons? Would it not run the risk of “killing him by kindness?” I could try to reach out, to write to him, but at a time in which he himself is having to navigate such a grave situation, would I not simply be imposing upon him, in essence asking for his forgiveness at a time when he must, surely, be flooded with an ocean of emotional static? And could I even certain of my own intentions in doing so?

I find, at the end of this day, that all I can do is pray. Pray for him. Pray for myself. Pray for our entire broken species. Is that the ultimate answer? Perhaps not. But it is an answer. And for now, being better than no answer at all, I’m afraid it will have to do.

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