When I was a young college student, I worked my summers at a camp for gifted kids. I enjoyed it immensely. What I really enjoyed as well was having my first girlfriend, another counselor named Jennifer.
I enjoyed it, until she broke up with me at the end of the summer.
Fast forward a year and she was back working at camp and I wasn’t happy to find that Jennifer had returned as well. We decided to bury the hatchet and make the best of it.
While watching the children that afternoon Jennifer asked, “What are you doing this weekend?”
I replied, “I’m going to go see Dead Poet’s Society with my sister.” the acclaimed Robin Williams playing in the lead role as a prep school teacher.
Now I’d like to say this in advance…I’m about to ruin this movie for you if you’ve never seen this movie. So if that’s so…STOP READING NOW…just walk away. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go on. We’ll wait…
OK so if you’re still with us.
Jennifer replies, “Oh I saw that with my mom. Just remember to turn your head away when the guy kills himself at the end.”
I yelled, “Well thanks a lot! You just ruined the whole movie for me.”
Now the truth is that I knew that Jennifer’s friend had committed suicide and it affected her profoundly. But I was more concerned about myself…well, that, and she broke up with me and I was still infatuated with her.
Come Monday, I had seen the movie and loved it but was annoyed because I knew the ending and the whole movie I was trying to figure out which character was going to die.
A colleague said to me, “Hey how did you like Dead Poet’s Society? I saw it too!”
I replied “It was great!”
And at that moment, I spyed Jennifer walking into the room. And I yelled,
“AND I THOUGHT THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE WAS WHEN THE GUY KILLS HIMSELF AT THE END!”
Jennifer ran out crying.
Possibly the meanest thing I have ever done.
My sister told me to lay off of her. She told me that Jennifer’s mother had cancer and that things weren’t looking good. I ran after her and apologized. I told her that I would pray for her mother. Jennifer wasn’t really religious, a secular Jew, at best. She was annoyed at me finding out that her mom was ill. She was a private person which was a big reason that we broke up.
It’s amazing the things that stay with you. I often regret that moment, because I was so self-concerned and about a movie, of all things! I was less than charitable to her and she was also hurting, possibly from our break up and from the news of cancer.
We never know what someone else is carrying around. And our need for revenge is something that we should look carefully at when it strikes us. Do we really need to even the score, even when someone is mean to us? Or can we be better than this?
What would Jesus do? What would St Ignatius advise?
Well the first thing is to heal. I probably should have had it out with Jennifer early and told her how she had hurt me and heard her side of our relationship. Being young and immature (she was my first real girlfriend) was tough because my feelings were raw–a first break up–and now those feelings were hitting me each day when I looked her way. Denying my hurt and protecting myself was a sure sign of immaturity.
The second thing is to look for the good, for the loving. Had I truly been in love with Jennifer, I would have known how hurt she was by that movie scene and despite her indiscretion at ruining the movie for me, I would have been more understanding had I moved to love instead of revenge.
The third is to notice relationship. I liked Jennifer as long as she was providing me with feelings of security. When I had a girlfriend, I was “the man.” But relationships are not about power structures–they are about mutuality. And in that mutual giving, we find love and a deeper relationship with God.
So apologies again, Jennifer. I hope you are well and that you have found love for a lifetime.