Monday, April 16, 2012

The Weight of Doubt

Recently I participated in a week-long theatre workshop that ended with a reader's theater performance of the play Doubt. After our performance, most of the cast also met to watch the movie. It's good. It has Meryl Streep in it, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose  name I can never remember. They deserved the awards they were nominated for.

The title of the story comes from the lack of resolution the playwright gives his audience, the doubt that Streep's character, a nun who is the principal of a parish school, feels after she turns in a young, popular priest for possibly engaging in inappropriate behavior with a male student. And the doubt the audience is intended to feel as to whether she was right, as she vehemently insists, or whether the priest was innocent as he claimed. The complex, flawed characters make it impossible to be sure--or at least it was for me.

I was privileged to deliver the last two lines of the play, the only two lines that show a crack in the nun's certainty. She simply says to a younger nun who was involved, "I have doubts. I have such doubts."

After the performance where I delivered those final lines -- we did the final scene without rehearsal -- I found myself thinking about doubt in my own relationships, in particular those that have ended without resolution.

I too have doubts -- such doubts -- about the part I played in certain events, about the decisions I made. About the times I felt backed against a wall with only one choice remaining -- or so I thought. About whether I was absolutely sure I had only that one choice or if maybe ... maybe?

Some people get do-overs. I don't. My doubts, although I allow them to run like rabid dogs in my mind, will not fix or resolve anything. This I know.

I could write for days about those doubts and the situations that provided them fresh meat and bones to gnaw on for months .... years. And about the people I may have hurt and who hurt me. I see no benefit in reliving those times in words, especially here.

What I need to write about is what I don't doubt.What I'm sure of.

Maybe if I were working a 12-step program I'd write to each and try to make amends, but I'm not. And as one friend recently said in another context, even trying to make amends can be a form of bullying.

So instead I'm writing an open letter to those people -- I know who they are and some of them would know who they are too.* It's like throwing a note in a bottle into the ocean and hoping it will wash up in Ohio, but that's what blogging is anyway. At least the way I do it.

Here is my letter.

Dear _________:

I'll get right to the point. I hope you're happy. I really do. However you define happiness, I hope you are. I hope the dreams we talked about came true and you're working on new, improved dreams now.

But more than that, I hope you're loved in a way I couldn't love you. I hope you have someone in your life who lifts up the best in you and inspires you to rise to the challenges life throws at you; who listens to your dreams and tries to tease out the meaning;  who holds you when you cry; who brings you soup when you're sick; who cries with you over your favorite movies; who sings duets with you; who laughs at your jokes -- even the stupid ones or the ones you've told a dozen times; who listens to your stories about work and your childhood and the breakdown of your marriage; who tells you the truth even when it hurts; who holds your hand when you walk down the street; who loves to see you naked and wants to lie for hours with her head on your shoulder talking; or who holds you in his arms while you sleep; who gives you cookies just the way you like them -- hot and moist and by the dozen; who tells you you're perfect just the way you are, makes you feel important and precious ...... who sincerely wants to take care of you and not just allow you to take care of her or him.

I want all of this for you because I saw see something in you that is shiny, sweet , yearning and perfect. Because in spite of our deeply frustrating, ubiquitous, human imperfections, we all possess a unique, fragile, perfect self that only some people will see and nurture and love. I saw see that in you, even now. No matter what happened, I still see it and I love you for it.

So I hope in your life you have at least one person who also sees that you are precious and worth making a priority, even a sacrifice for sometimes.

This is what I want for you, because I believe it's what we all want if we're emotionally healthy. Sociopaths .... nah, but this isn't directed at any of them. They wouldn't get this.

(But if there's a sociopath in your life, I hope you are easing her or him out. You don't deserve that. You deserve real love.)

As much as wishing you better relationships than what you had with me though, I want to thank you.

I want to thank you for forcing me to face my own vulnerability. Because of what happened between us, I either wasn't able to, or I chose not to, retreat into my own inadequate perfectionism behind thick, impenetrable walls. Oh, you know I'm not perfect, but other people are still fooled. And I can make myself crazy trying to live up to their vision of me.

I've never been good at showing hurt in any of its forms: confusion, fear of abandonment, fear of not being good enough, fear of hurting someone else, the loss of someone precious .... fear.

I'm better at it now. I've been practicing. Some of my oldest friends have told me they feel like they've finally seen past my walls. I practice letting them. It's hard, but you've given me the gift of hurt and shame that I can share.

It doesn't sound like a good thing. I wish it didn't need to be so, but this is one of my lessons. So even if I miss you and wish you were still in my life, I'm grateful I knew and loved love you. I'm grateful you shared your stories, your fears, your laughter, and your time. Thank you. I mean it.

And finally, two words I don't care for much. But I will say them because they are the only words in our language that will suffice. 

I'm sorry for what I might have done better. I'm sorry because sometimes I react with anger, hurt, shame, or even desperation and there may be a better solution. I'm sorry because sometimes I don't communicate as well as I could or sometimes I say too much. And I  either couldn't find my way back or you wouldn't let me back in. The gate is closed and I'm locked out. Just as I did, you did what you needed to do. It takes courage.

If I see you and I don't talk to you, it's because I want to honor your desire to .... to move on. I don't prefer it. I am not ignoring you. I respect your need for distance.

No excuses though. I am sorry. Even though I don't always know what I could have done better .... sometimes I'm not sure what I did ..... I'm sorry because you aren't in my life any more. Or if you are still on the periphery ..... it hurts. Telling you that is part of that whole vulnerability thing. I'm aware you could easily mock me for it. It's OK. If that makes you feel better or brings you closer to someone you need, it's OK.

I love you. I want to make sure I say that. I love you for ..... well, for what I saw in you and for what I felt for you. I can only speak for myself. If I wasn't as important to you as you were to me, I'm sorry for that too. As the song says, "somebody always loves a little more."

That's all. I love you.


* Disclaimer: If I ever used the word "abusive" to describe your behavior, that situation has been resolved. This is not for you. If you ever fucked with my family, come closer so I can curb-stomp your face. I'm not Jesus, and I don't play him on this blog.

Tell me I'm not the only one with such doubts. Do you carry doubts in your heart?

Please feel free to share this letter if you have doubts about a relationship that ended badly. The world doesn't need more conflict.


  1. This is a courageous, beautiful, and very strong letter. Thanks for sharing your vulnerability and your honesty and strength. I do not believe that "things happen for a reason," but I do think that, if we are wise and courageous and strong, it is possible to take what happens to us and in us and use it to change ourselves and the world around us. With writing like this, that is what you are doing. <3

    1. Thank you, AutoD. Several things happened in the past few weeks that prompted this letter.

      One of the hardest and most valuable lessons I learned during my long, grueling divorce was that I don't want to live my life in tit-for-tat reaction to other people's ugly behavior. Sometimes it is inevitable. But I want to choose how I act based on who I want to be. When someone is mean or vindictive, I don't need to give back what I'm getting, even when I'm hurt and angry and feel helpless. I guess it's the old "turn the other cheek" thing. I don't always have to hit back, because doing so often hurts me too.

      And I'd much rather focus on building relationships than destroying them.

  2. yup. i've got a letter like this in me, too, just waiting to be written. felt every word of yours.

    1. I can imagine, Lindsay. You can always write it just for yourself. I needed to remind myself and a few other people that I don't play mean-girl games. Of this I have no doubt.