It’s funny how a single incident or remark can change a relationship forever. The slightest word, look or act can radically and unexpectedly shift the ground beneath us. A graphic expression of this occurred in the 1991 film Avalon, which follows the fortunes of an extended immigrant Jewish family after World War II.
Over the years the family developed several traditions that bound its members together. One was Thanksgiving dinner. It happened that one brother and his wife habitually arrived late for the event. So one year the host decided not to wait for his brother to arrive and began carving the turkey.
When the brother and his wife finally arrived and saw that the meal had begun, he exploded and left the house screaming: “I can’t believe you cut the toikey!”
According to the story, that moment irreparably severed the bond between two brothers and their families.
The incident mirrors what often happens in real life: A will that favors one child over another; a dispute among siblings over whether to place an incapacitated parent in a nursing home; or unilaterally deciding that a family member should no longer drive now that she’s reached a certain age. All of these actions can forever alter a previously stable (and loving) relationship.
How can we know the repercussions of our actions or words? What does it take to anticipate the impact of a single remark, or action? Maybe the best we can do is think through the repercussions of our actions and put ourselves in the place of a potentially aggrieved party. Perhaps, there is nothing we can do to prevent hurting, offending, or angering someone who at the slightest remark will turn a relationship on its head and allow years of friendship to evaporate in an instance.
Who are we? The person who easily takes offense and is willing to sacrifice a relationship in the name of pride or status? Or, someone who mindlessly makes statements that cause irreversible harm? Or, one who weighs the potential outcome and relies on his or her inner resources to guide their actions?
Carolyn Parr says
A rupture like this can be repaired. The late brother felt disrespected. (So did the host brother, by the tardiness.) If either one can muster the courage to move toward deeper understanding, this relationship can be saved. An expression of regret and respect is needed. Something like, “Everyone was getting hungry, but I wish I’d called your cell before we cut the turkey, just to get a better idea of when you’d arrive. I’m really sorry I didn’t do that, and that you were hurt.” Or the other brother could say, “I probably over-reacted, but I was really surprised that you didn’t wait. I could have called to let you know I’d be late.” Then they could talk it through.
Louisa Weinrib says
For me the passive-aggressive personality is the most difficult to deal with, and that was what the chronically late brother and his wife exhibited. They knew what they were doing: manipulating the rest of the family to wait for them, probably causing the food to get cold and their family to get angry in the process. I don’t think the host has any cause to apologize. If the late brother’s relationship to the family was so fragile as to stomp off this time, it would have happened anyhow down the line. It’s too bad, but good riddance. The fact that this is an immigrant family adopting an honored American holiday custom adds emotion to this story, but the dynamic of manipulation is the same. Louisa Weinrib
I’m with Louisa on this one. Whenever I invite folks for dinner, I wait 15 minutes max for latecomers, then invite everyone to dig in. I know if I was the one who was late to a friend’s dinner party, I would want everyone to go ahead and start eating instead of sitting around staring at slowly chilling food.
I think that extending the mercy that we wish to receive is a better road to take with family. Our birth marks are not wounds but reminders of our common heritage. We should fight to maintain closeness not divide because of our differences. Much like the wars between us as humans, we choose separation often when unity is our true plan for survival. A commitment to survival necessarily forces us to choose unity and forgiveness rather than our rights. I vote for repairing the breach and maintaining the family unity and working hard until it is restored.
Thanks, Teresa. What a good reminder of our connectedness, even with those we find difficult.