Yom Kippur was a few days ago but here’s the real Part Two to the story I wrote last week, about a long-ago column that made light of support groups, including one for those with head injuries.
It brought in a furious letter to the editor by a person who not only demanded I be fired but also called the guy up to make her case.
“But it’s humor,” the editor told her. “It’s meant to be funny.” “Funny, my foot,” she basically said, and she was right.
All this was back in ‘93. Then, in the fall of ’97, a letter dropped into my own mailbox complimenting me on another satirical piece I had just done. This letter was signed only with initials but I knew the initials. I knew the return address. So when I wrote back to say thanks. I added a spur-of-the-moment P.S. saying that I knew who she was and I was still sorry for what I did back then. And didn’t the woman write me again the very next day:
I used only my initials because I thought you might be bitter about what happened between us. I was furious and I wanted to hit back for the dreadful pain I was feeling at the time. I’ve worked with a number of head-injured young adults who went through their windshields and came back as strangers. Also when I wrote that, my nephew had just recently died of a massive head injury sustained in a road accident.
But as time passed I saw that I didn’t despise YOU but only that lapse in judgment. Moreover, you apologized – probably while hurt beyond words by my scathing rebuttal. It took a while, as I would go and stare in radical disbelief at my nephew’s fresh grave, but I finally got to where I could accept your apology. After all, I had no wish to be bound by my grievances; what a dreary proposition in a world where we are all so far short of perfect.
Later, in other letters, she described her old neighborhood, recommended restaurants I might visit in her area and complimented me on another column. She ended that letter by saying one thing more:
You mustn’t worry that I’ll be going over these pieces with a microscope, looking for faults. Also, there’s no need to be nervous if, now and then, one of your loyal readers decides to take you to task. You have to be tough about that, Terry.
You have to be tough about that, Terry: That sentence alone can bring tears to my eyes still, because here was the lady now comforting me; counseling me about developing a thicker skin.
We wrote regularly after that. We met only once when, sick with the cancer that would soon claim her life, she insisted on dressing up, taking a train into the city and buying me dinner in one of its fine old hotels. So here’s to, departed friend. You have stayed with me all these years and you guide me even now, each and every time I sit down at my keyboard.