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Krieg Barrie

A letter to Mary Jo

Faith & Inspiration | Resolved conflict, even decades later, makes the end of a thing better than its beginning

In the fall of 1969 an all-male college in Worcester, Mass., threw open its doors to women for the first time. It attracted those who fancied themselves pioneers, liked the 9-to-1 male/female ratio, and looked to bond with a small band of sisters. As a sophomore I found my sister to bond with, and her name was Mary Jo.

Mary Jo was practically perfect. Of all the coeds she was by far the most wholesome, like the song out of West Side Story: “modest and pure, polite and refined, well-bred and mature.” Never an untoward word, never a scandalizing outfit, never a hint of gossip, jealousy, or hippie free love, nothing but kind, cheerful, and honoring of her parents. And one day I was fed up with it.

I lured her into the least-frequented ladies’ room on campus and gave her a piece of my mind for an hour. It may have been less than an hour, but it felt that long because she didn’t say anything. I told her I was sick of her Goody Two-shoes persona and acting like she’s better than other people and being so high-minded, and that nobody is that good. Mary Jo didn’t flee the scene and didn’t breathe a word in her defense: She stood like a sheep led to slaughter.

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In the fall of ’73 I went abroad, and I suppose that being in Europe made me reflective because I wrote to Mary Jo from the back of a truck. After returning to the states, however, I didn’t look her up, and went on with my life, a newly minted L’Abri Christian.

Turn around and you’re 61 years old and sorting through the mail, and come across a 40th college reunion invitation. There is something about rounding 60. I contacted the school for the first time in four decades and asked for the RSVP list. Mary Jo wasn’t on it, but they surprised me by divulging where she worked as an elementary school teacher. (Naturally.) I sat down and wrote a carefully crafted page, slipped it into a stamped, unsealed envelope with a cover letter to the principal, and put all this in a conspicuous USPS mailer.

Jacob sinned against Esau and then went on the lam and didn’t see his brother’s face again till two wives, two concubines, and 12 children later. When he learned that Esau was on his way to meet him, and had 400 men with him, Jacob did what you would do: got into the submissive dog posture and sent gifts. I had no gift, except God’s command to “take with you words” (Hosea 14:2). I waited by turns for a call, for silence, for my letter hurled back with “return to sender” scrawled on it. 

For all my preparation, it caught me by surprise. “Hi Andrée, this is Mary Jo.” I must have run at the mouth then, for she interrupted: “Andrée, before you say another word, I just want you to know that it’s OK. Nothing has changed my love for you.” We talked for an hour, but it felt like less. Toward the end I told her I fast on Tuesdays, and have noticed that God always does something special for me on Tuesdays. 

Mary Jo replied that she was glad to be an instrument of God for me that way. She said she had received my correspondence last Thursday and her housemate Cheryl had urged her to call right away to put me out of my misery. But she had preferred to pray about it and wait for just the right words. Hence, the delay till Tuesday.

“Cain … murdered his brother. And why did he murder him?” None of this nonsense about sibling rivalry. He did it “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). It took years to understand that slaying in the college lavatory. But “better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

I guess she was as good as all that, after all. She was better. Praise be to “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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