Kelly tried to rationalize Cheryl's behavior. "I thought maybe she had a brain tumor or something." But Kelly couldn't explain it away. Cheryl hadn't been just moody; she had been extraordinarily cruel. "Even in my worst mood," Kelly told me, "I would never have said something like that."

Wisely, Kelly held a grudge. She regarded Cheryl as she would a wild animal, one that could be calm and playful one moment, savage and destructive the next. There may be infinite explanations for such erratic behavior, but an explanation is not a reason to drop your armor. On most days, for example, Jeffrey Dahmer didn't kill or eat anyone. But the times he did made society hold a grudge against him. Forever. If someone in your life is genuinely monstrous part of the time—even once—be leery all the time. Wear your grudge armor. It could prevent catastrophe.

Having laid out the kinds of people who are best managed with caution, alertness, and the dexterity of a rattlesnake wrangler, I still think unconditional love and forgiveness are saintly qualities, ones we should all cultivate. If you need to be reminded of this, rent Beaches and watch it with your best friend. You'll cry your eyes out. Then dig in and talk about the human planarians in your life, the people who've struck out three times, the gaslighters, the pity mongers, and the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformers. Such talk keeps your grudges light and strong, the way God intended. Or at least how Miss M. intended. Which is divine enough for me.

Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self (The Open Field).

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