Over the weekend I went to a high school graduation party for the daughter of one of my cousins. My cousin’s mother—my mother’s sister—was there. I attempted to greet her with a hug and got a very cool reception and no hug. It was most definitely an awkward moment. A little while later, I watched as one of my brothers arrived and this same aunt gave him a warm smile and welcoming hug.
So what did I do to deserve the cold shoulder? I’ve been trying to figure that out for a few years now and the best answer I can come up with is that my first marriage ended in divorce. I’ve never done anything to personally upset this aunt, that I know of. None of my children have ever done anything to upset her. And she started acting weird shortly after my divorce was final. Maybe all these things are coincidental, but my instincts tell me they’re related.
Divorce is ugly. It’s the rendering of a lifelong commitment two people made to stay together in good times and bad, no matter what. In my case, anger and violence caused me to walk away from the “forever” commitment I made, and I am convinced that my children and I are alive today because I did. I regret that my marriage came to an end. I don’t regret walking away from the abuse. Actually, my ex filed for the divorce, not me. He decided he’d rather be free of me instead of getting help for his anger. In his mind, I caused his anger. And for most of our married life, I believed that too.
It’s been more than eleven years since my ex and I first separated, and it pains me that some relationships with friends are still strained. We had been married for twenty years and had many “joint” friends. But we lived in a small community and people, consciously or subconsciously, took sides. For those friends who really struggled with our divorce, I made it easy on them by moving two years later. Truth be told, I was relieved to move away. I couldn’t stand the whispers every time I entered our church or a restaurant. I went back for a funeral a couple of months ago and was horrified to again hear the whispers.
Losing a friend hurts. It still hurts, even after all these years, when someone I once cared about and who cared about me still can’t find a path to be friends with me. One friend, whom I thought was a close friend, has turned down several invitations to get together for lunch or to come to a party at my new home. Once or twice “I’m sorry, I can’t” can be reasoned away. Any more rejections are difficult to ignore. Some days I feel like there’s a conspiracy against me because I moved away and I’m not one of “them” anymore. And because my ex still lives there, their allegiance is to him. Some days I feel a label is etched on my forehead: REMARRIED. Is that what my aunt sees when she looks at me?
I was blessed to be given a second chance and married a wonderful, loving man. Aside from my children, he is the greatest gift I’ve been handed in life. He grew up in a home filled with love and laughter and respect. He still struggles to understand the degree of anger and violence my girls and I lived with—when you’ve never experienced something firsthand, it’s difficult to comprehend it. He accepts me for who I am and tolerates my faults. He doesn’t raise a fist or hurl threats at me. He gives me lots of hugs. And he listens, a lot. It is because of his love for me that I know I am worthy of love.
My husband was married for thirty years before his marriage ended in divorce, “amicably.” Is that even possible? After all these years his ex refuses to separate herself from his family, and that has caused us all some angst. Even though she remarried and has a new life, she still believes she belongs at all of my husband’s family’s events. She would just love it if I agreed to be best friends with her. How can I even begin to think I could be friends with someone who hurt the man I love?
I left that graduation party thinking my aunt’s coolness toward me is her baggage, not mine. And I keep thinking about the lesson that asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” And the verse from Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Important lessons. I am paying attention. I am still learning.