Unfinished Business

I don’t know if this has anything to do with introversion or being HSP, but it’s what I’m thinking about right now, so I’m going to write about it anyway. Yesterday I discovered, quite by accident, that someone I once had contact with on a daily basis had died.

We didn’t part as friends. She was a difficult employer, privileged, chaotic, demanding, creating oceans of stress for her several “helpers,” of which I was one. I tried to keep her issues from spilling over into my life by setting boundaries, but she pounded against them as inexorably – and remorselessly – as a tidal wave. When it started to impact my health, and she refused to acknowledge even that those impacts existed, much less that they mattered, I was done. I fired her. As she saw it, I left her in the lurch, which was outrageously inaccurate and terribly unfair. That was the status of our relationship the last time I saw her.

However, before all of that, we worked intensely together for two years, much of it on a major creative project that went on to have international visibility. For all its drawbacks, the job was a turning point in my life. She took my writing and reasoning abilities seriously, even though I had no academic or professional credentials. I discovered in myself a previously unsuspected talent for editing (from a lifetime of practice editing my own HSP over-expression, no doubt).

It was the first time I got paid for writing, sort of. I was actually better at it than she was, and more analytically rigorous, and (arguably) more honest. In a merit-based world, our working relationship would have been characterized as the collaboration it was. In the real world of haves and have-nots, it was one thing for her to honor my talents by using them, but quite another for her to share credit. I’m sure such a notion never entered her mind.

Although our personal connection was limited by a certain reserve on her part, as well as by class issues and major ethical differences (both of which were invisible to her), there were certain key values and passions that we shared. That made the experience harder to write off than a job of less duration, or with less personal meaning. I invested my full energies way above and beyond the call of duty, so I have always resented that my substantial contribution was under-acknowledged at the completion of the project, in favor of latecomers who rescued her from a crisis of her own making when I wouldn’t.

Life went on. Stuff happened. A lot of stuff. I rarely think of that time. But when I learned that she had passed away, I discovered that I had been using open-endedness to manage that lingering resentment. I didn’t seek or expect a transformation in her perspective, but it was a possibility, however slim. Until it finally, irrevocably, wasn’t. And more than grieving a loss, even though I wonder if it is petty of me, I now find myself struggling to balance emotional books when an apology due can never be collected.

I have always found unaddressed injustice challenging. I’ve made some progress, figuring out that holding anger punishes no one but myself. But if I let it go, aren’t I saying to myself that it doesn’t matter when someone treats me badly? Not that I really have a choice. My anger exists, that’s just the truth. But I need to find some other way to deal with unfinished business than deferring it to some future date. I’m middle-aged – more people I know are going to be dying. It could start to add up.

I know this issue is not unique to me. On the contrary, how to truly resolve grievances is the focus of numerous cultures trying to work out how to live side by side with people who have irreparably harmed them. There has been an evolution in the understanding of the psychological needs of victims – to have their experience heard and witnessed, and the harms done acknowledged by the perpetrators. But how is that accomplished when the perpetrators are dead?

And I do wonder whether we are solving the right problem. Recovery is all very well, but wouldn’t preventing injustice in the first place be better? If we focus on reconciliation after offense (instead of before) do we implicitly surrender to the inevitability of conflict and injury? I’m not sure I can do that, and even if I could, I can’t believe I should.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

The fact that referring to “man” seems dated, thanks to “unreasonable” feminists, rather proves his point: Progress is possible.

I guess this post is all about being a deep-feeling, big-dreaming HSP after all. An unreasonable HSP…

… until the world catches up.

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