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I went to many birthday parties when I was a kid. I don’t remember most of them. One I do remember, vividly, however, is the party to which I didn’t receive an invitation. It was in celebration of one of my good friend’s tenth birthdays. I was unaware of the occurrence of such a mega event, which happened on a Sunday afternoon, until Monday morning, when it was the talk of the entire fifth grade.
My friend Elizabeth had been to my house many times, and I to hers. I thought we were very close. Turns out there were at least a dozen or so girls she deemed closer.
I was devastated.
This was mid January. Elizabeth was now 11. I was still 10 because my birthday was in the upcoming month of February.
Yep. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
The tables had turned. It was my turn to plan the party and invite the guests.
I’d discussed my angst at the non-invitation with my mom and she acknowledged my right to feel slighted. And then she made a suggestion about my upcoming party.
“I think you should invite Elizabeth,” she said. “She may not have invited you, but leaving her out won’t change that. If you see her as a friend, show her and maybe she will come to understand how true friends treat each other.”
I, of course, counter-argued, “But she didn’t invite me!”
To that, my mom explained that meeting a perceived wrong with a similar action doesn’t help anyone.
“You felt bad when you found out about her party,” my mom said. “How will she feel if you do the same to her for your party? And, just as importantly, how will that make you feel?”
My 10-year-old brain contemplated that thought and I realized, rather quickly (to my surprise) that inviting Elizabeth was right in a number of ways, while not inviting her was wrong.
Offering the proverbial olive branch made my heart happy, while thoughts of excluding my friend were only coming from a dark place. Even at 10 I understood that.
When I brought my party invitations to school a few days later I handed one to Elizabeth. Her eye widened and I could see she was surprised.
“You’re inviting me to your party?” She asked. “I didn’t invite you to mine.”
“I know,” I said. “I want you to come. I didn’t want to leave you out.”
She smiled and I smiled, and with that one exchange the discomfort of her party was put behind us. She did come to my party and we remained friends through age 11 and maybe even through age 12.
We were kids. Learning and growing from our mistakes. Sometimes the hard way, sometimes through the grace and insight of a wise mother.
But, here’s the real lesson in all of this. It’s one I just realized, decades later:
I never would have thought twice about inviting Elizabeth had she not invited me. I never would have confided in my mom and she, in turn, never would have had the chance to teach me this truth had I not been excluded in the first place.
Sometimes valuable insight and knowledge comes from the least likely of places – from darkness or at least the shadows.
Without shadows, we might not appreciate the light.
Elizabeth, in leaving me out, gave me a chance to embrace the light. Find your lessons from the most unlikely of places and darkest corners. That where they most often can be found.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.