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RANDY HUFF: Rumination on A Misunderstanding

Last year I all-but-unavoidably overheard the following conversation in a restaurant. It is paraphrased – I wasn’t that rude. And I have made up the names. I had no idea who these people were and wasn’t about to ask, though I was deeply touched. Here’s my best memory of the conversation:

“Amy has been a good friend for over 20 years. Now she seems distant.” Monica’s voice was thoughtful and concerned, almost tired. At a glance she looked to be late 30’s, perhaps a Mom, and busy with life. She seemed not to care if anyone overheard. I was eating alone and listening was hard to avoid.

Her friend, whom I will call Dawn, replied: “Well, you ignored her when you were in town last fall.”

“Ignored her?!” Dawn looked up as Monica reacted. “I told her I had no free time and felt really bad about it!”

“Well, she called after you left and we chatted,” Dawn replied. “I told her you had visited Valdez with Vallery. She was silent and seemed hurt. I think she really needed to see you.”

“What do you mean I went to Valdez?! I did no such thing!” I glanced between bites and could see Monica had gone from thoughtful to slightly angry.

Dawn continued, “Well, you left the house early one day and said you’d have to spend the night at Valdez with Vallery. I thought nothing of it because we both had so much going on.”

Monica’s voice was pained and sharp. “Valdez?! I went to Vallery’s to finish that tax project she was buried with! No way did I have time to go to Valdez!”

Dawn was silent before replying. “Sounds like I made a bad mistake. I must have heard “Vallery” and thought “Valdez” and then joined the two in my mind, thinking no further. I didn’t mean to.” It seemed there were some tears and more silence. I didn’t dare look.

“I think you need to make a phone call.” Monica was angry. I wondered how this would play out.

To my happy surprise Dawn replied quietly. “You are right. I made a passing comment and didn’t even know it was wrong. Amy thinks you enjoyed Valdez but had no time to visit her. The simplest misunderstanding damaged a friendship.”

I pretended not to hear but knew this was a sacred moment, the kind that heals and makes whole if we let it.

Dawn’s sincere regret softened Monica’s reply. “Thank you, friend. I wondered if something was wrong but did not know what to do. Maybe we should go see her together.”

I continued eating with my head down but treasured the truth in my heart. How often an unintentionally errant word can divide. It is for us to be both slow to speak, and slow to indignation when we suffer a perceived affront. Misunderstandings abound, the result of human frailties we all share in abundance. And when we find ourselves at fault, we need the grace of wisdom and action to bring healing and truth.

Monica and Dawn found the way through honest discussion and a desire to heal. I pray the lesson is not lost on this eaves-dropping friend.

[The above is a true account — with apt fictionalizing — of a near-miss with a friend. It describes what might have been, but was happily avoided.]

Randy Huff

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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