His name appeared late on the registration list. I uttered an audible groan. How would I get through the entire reunion weekend without encountering him?
49 years before Doug and I were thrown together as mis-matched freshmen roommates. He had arrived three days late for the beginning of classes – a southern boy from rural Georgia invading Yankee territory for college. I was the cocky kid from Southern California about to face real winter for the first time. Conflict was fated.
From my opening bad joke and unfriendly sarcasm we did not mix. And it went down hill from there. Within two weeks he was asking the Dean for a new roommate. I was offended; he was offended. We both had our reasons and justifications. But no changes occurred.
For the balance of that school year we dodged each other effectively, seldom being in the room at the same time except to sleep. Even so I was disrespectful and inconsiderate. One night I wrote a paper on my loud typewriter between midnight and 2AM while he tried (pretended probably) to sleep. I can only imagine now how that must have affected him. On his side, back to me, he never uttered a sound.
During finals I packed my stuff and left without a word or acknowledgement. The three succeeding years we generally avoided each other while on campus. Changing direction if one of us saw the other coming. “Good riddance – and to the horse you rode in on too.”
And then here, suddenly, after 49 years, while talking with some members of the Class of 1970, he was right next to me. Having become a believer I had to at least offer the minimum. “Hey Doug. Len Crowley, your old roomie.” We shook hands briefly. “You still in Georgia?”
“Yeah. You still in California?”
I turned to greet other friends. He said as I moved away, “I read your bio. Kind of interesting…and short.” He read my bio? I nodded and continued to move away.
The next day there he was again, right next to me. How did this happen? We chatted briefly about where he was living in rural Georgia. We were disrupted and moved by some college official to another location a few feet away to get ready for the “Parade of Classes.” Isolated for a moment, it was there he asked about my religious experience.
“I went to divinity school too,” he offered. “Didn’t finish, but spent four years in Harlem, before becoming an attorney.”
Like being struck by lightening. He was an ally?
“So, where did you go to law school?” I queried. A default avoidance question.
Then the Word of the Lord came to me saying, “Really Leonard? Where did you go to law school? That’s the question you want to ask?” (No one calls me Leonard except my wife and God. Usually when they are angry or disappointed.) Message received.
“Doug, I need to say something to you now,” I began. “When we roomed together I was a major jerk. I’m certain you were offended…and with good reason. I wonder if you would be willing to forgive me for being such a knucklehead all those years ago.”
Tears seemed to emerge from both our eyes unbidden. “Of course,” he responded graciously. And there it happened.
50 years. Nearly 50 years of hidden bitterness opened to the light of reciprocal forgiveness. The ugly, smelly, black mold of resentment held and presumed forgotten in a deep corner was purged in a moment.
And it was the only moment we got. Within seconds of that exchange we were again ushered into line and the parade stepped off.
On the final evening of our 45th reunion I pointedly made Doug my last stop as I went around the room saying goodbyes. I paused in front of him. He stood. I spoke briefly about how much joy was now mine that we had re-encountered one another in this best of all possible ways.
Tears again. And an embrace. The animosity long held (or was it worse, indifference?) evaporated into the Minnesota evening. We were free.
Thank God Almighty. Free at last!
It doesn’t matter if it’s been 5 minutes, 5 years, 50 years or 500. There is no statute of limitations. The application of forgiveness in any and every instance heals the heart. It washes another and sets him free, like Jesus washing our feet, “cleansing us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And in the moment long harbored emotions are transformed for good. “Forgiven.” It is a clear demonstration of the presence of the divine. Nothing compares.