While doing my assignment for my masteral studies two nights ago, I overheard some indistinct voices from the outside. That was about nine in the evening.
My crammed room is located at the rear of our housing unit. It’s a quiet, secluded room that is at least far from the busy life outside — far enough for me to enjoy tranquility amidst the sometimes wild and often noisy environment.
But not this time: the voices I heard managed to penetrate the concrete walls, closed windows, and the plywood partitions that shield my room from the uninvited sounds that normally irritate me. The voices managed to penetrate my silence, disturbing my concentration and displacing the mellow music that played in the background as I typed. I was totally distracted.
When I silently opened my door to sneak my head outside just enough to let my ear do the inquiring, I noticed that the voices were rapidly getting louder . . . and closer. Then I began to recognize them: a man and a woman. “Oh, the couples across our narrow street — that’s a simple husband-wife quarrel.” I told myself.
Being an introverted person who prefers to live a quiet and undisturbed life, I was so tempted to hide back inside my small room and continue minding my own business, rationalizing that they are both grown ups, have kids, and that I don’t have any business with whatever it was they were brawling about in their private life. But wait, why are they near my front door?
Still, I neglected my own question and turned my body towards my notebook to continue my work. Yet before I was even able to close my door, I heard loud bangs from our entrance. They already reached my door. And the loud shouts made my heartbeat faster and louder as if synchronizing with their rhythm. Those shouts invited me to interfere.
So I did. What I thought to be a simple lovers’ quarrel turned out to be a more complicated dispute. There was a third person. They are all my acquaintances. The couples are my neighbors; the other man, my housemate. That explains why they were near my doorsteps. A heated dispute was firing up and the woman was trying to cool it down.
The argument broke into an open fist fight while the woman was helplessly pulling her husband away from my house mate. As the three push each other, they bang with the entrance door of my unit.
I realized I had no choice. I needed to intervene.
In short, my quiet study time was instantly turned into a chaotic play of intervening a raging interaction between two furious friends.
The dispute invited more audiences and in less than a minute, our immediate surroundings became like a coliseum of gladiators with some “extras” in between the fearless warriors to stop the show. I was one of those extras. I was trying everything to stop the show.
Instead of the gladiators, we, the extras, were the winners. We managed to stop and cool down the blazing combatants.
After pulling my housemate away from the scene into our unit, I closed the door, and then asked him what happened. As he told me his story, I knew that there was something more. I knew that what he told me was just the most outer layer of a seemingly thick cascaded layers of a subtle cycle of personal attacks and counterattacks. I knew I wouldn’t be able to dig the deepest root and I did not want to even try it. Besides, I have detected that they were not the only persons involved in the conflict. There are more.
“Go back to your room, take a rest, and we’ll settle this tomorrow when all of you are no longer drunk,” I told my housemate. Yes, they were all drunk. Although not too much, nonetheless, they were.
He was very polite to submit to my request. So after he entered his room, I happily went back to my already distracted work and tried as strongly as I could to retrieve all the lost data in the memory of my head. One by one, the data I have been processing before their chaotic world invited me, began to emerge gradually.
I was smiling and shaking my head peacefully as I typed my next few sentences when all of a sudden I heard louder voices from more people. Wow! What happened? I thought . . .
Going back to the battle field not as a warrior but as an arbiter, I first cleared my mind. “This one is tougher. I need to be more collected, cool and alert.” I reminded myself as I saw my neighbor holding a bolo — a long single-edged knife — as he gave a warning to my equally fierce housemate.
The audience had doubled. The battle was elevated to the next level. One warrior was using a weapon. “What would I do now?” I asked myself, “Should I play the same winning role I played earlier — as an umpire? What if I lose this time and become the victim of that deadly bolo?”
I didn’t remember the exact details of how we did it. Everything happened so fast. But with more “extras” to stop the war, we managed to settle it down. Everything that happened next was almost exactly the same with the previous chapter: I told my housemate to return to his room, and again, he did.
Before I went back to my catastrophic study time to hopelessly continue my assignment, I went outside and talked to our amazed audiences not to go home yet, lest they might miss the forthcoming third round. I already accepted the apparent fact: the battle isn’t over yet, the fighters were just having a break. Perhaps, they were just planning their next strategy.
Then I went back to my room, but I changed my mind. Having convinced myself that the war has just began, I decided to just secure my notebook and forget about my assignment. Lives outside my room were at stake. They were more important, I thought, than my grades.
Back to my desk, staring at my poor abandoned notebook, I was ready for the next loud shouts. Nothing. “Should I continue my study or just wait for the next match?” I didn’t know. So instead, I switched on my desktop and planned to play.
Maybe my PC was so slow, because before I even started the game, a soft knockings on my room took my attention. When I opened the door, the person outside was a little bit confused as he didn’t know what to say.
So I made him sit in my dining table across me and encouraged him to speak up. He shook his head slowly and then told me, “Arnold, I don’t know what to say and how to start it, it’s complicated.
“Now I have the fourth involved person. I was right about my initial assessment on the conflict. What started to be just a simple dispute between two drunk men was actually a culmination of a long grudge tenderly harbored by all parties involved. One by one the names of other people in this complex situation emerged.
Suddenly I became the person I didn’t want to be. I became the accidental umpire, the judge, the mediator.
The person in front of me called all the other players and they demanded to settle everything in front of me. They wanted a witness, an arbiter, an outsider perhaps, they wanted me to sit down and listen to them as they settle their long harbored grudges to one another. They wanted reconciliation, and they wanted me to be there. “But why me?” I was screaming inside my heart! Most of these people are older than me. They are older than me by more than a decade. Some of them are already like a father or uncle to me. Why me? Why here in my unit?
Having no other choice, I listened to their pains, and predicaments. As they expressed all their negative feelings, some false assumptions that were responsible for their behaviors started to surface gradually. As they journeyed to their past, I couldn’t help but listen, trying to connect to their hidden world that has not been visible to me.
During the discussion, I noticed that every one of the five people who crowded my small living room started to cool down as if they have realized that their behaviors in the past were just products of their false assumptions and wrong interpretations to the actions of their fellow. As they concealed their feelings, they only gave them away . . . uncontrolled.
After less than an hour of painful recollection of the past they started to smile and began saying sorry to one another. My neighbor and my housemate embraced as they both said, “Sorry!” I was relieved. Every one was happy. Everything back to normal. At last, it’s over! We all won the battle!
Pondering about some principles I have learned from similar encounters, I began to relax and stopped listening attentively to them. “They are okay now!” maybe that’s the assumption unconsciously running inside my head as I let them go on with their stories and clarifications with each other.
My mind was pondering over some principles actively at work beneath our every word, and behind our every action. I was reflecting on the situation, its causes and implications when I noticed that the peace we were just starting to enjoy was gradually fading. The gradual fading slowly became rapid.
Before we even knew it, diplomacy was gone. When my housemate threw his cellphone toward the entrance door and angrily walked out the door, I realized the peace was temporary. Our jaws dropped as we saw his cellphone dropped to the floor in four pieces. Everybody was shocked. In less than ten-seconds, the four people inside my unit, locked their eyes on me as if waiting for my response.
I wanted to vanish right from my seat. I wanted to ask them why are they staring at me. “Why always me?” When will this agony stop?
The person in front of me broke the silence by asking me, “You see what he just did?” I nodded very gently showing him a sad face. And then, he stood and started to walk through the door with the intent to follow my housemate outside the building into the dark.
Another round had begun: the third round.Before he walked outside to follow my housemate, I managed to remind him to be cool and stick with the objective — to settle things out. He did the opposite.Another fight broke in. Louder, more intense, and with more adrenaline. It took us almost another hour to finally settle their raging emotions down. The same chain of events were repeated. We managed temporarily to cool the situation down only to be reincarnated into a more dangerous, ravenous monster: the fourth round followed next. Everything was repeated in the same exact sequence.
Finally, few minutes before midnight we were all embracing each other, repeating the words, “Sorry!” and “Thank you!”
After all was gone, I was left alone in my small secluded room unable to sleep, thinking about what happened. The three-hour struggle for peace was finally won over.
What have I learned?
As for me, I still don’t know why I was there, and why I was put in the middle of them, because to be brutally honest, I didn’t do anything that might have led to their reconciliation. I was just an outsider — not an umpire — who happened to be there, perhaps in order for me to learn something about hate and pride . . . about forgiveness.
What I have just witnessed reminded me that harboring pains and grudges only intensifies the chaos in our already hostile world.
I have learned that in a dispute like this, or in any war — even those in cosmic scale — our true enemy is not our perceived enemy, but war itself.
Hate and pride are deadly twins. Forgiveness is not simply about saying sorry and then forgetting it when we recall another offense done in the past; it’s about a 180 degrees change of heart. Forgiveness is about renouncing pride and letting go of our hate — submitting them to God, and focusing ourselves towards the opposite, towards forgetting what the other person did and forgiving him not just in words and in deeds, but most importantly, inside our hearts where nobody will attest except God.
That makes forgiveness so difficult, because it’s not about what other people see in our actions, nor about what they hear in our words, but rather what God sees inside our hearts.
Lord, help me to forgive!