“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”― Robert Brault
“I am sorry.”
I helped her steady herself. She had nearly fainted. Those three words coming from my mouth was such a shock, so rare as to be thought extinct, so completely out of character, in such contradiction to my carefully curated projection of living a mistake-free life, she lost her breath.
Her first look was of complete surprise. Then it morphed into the squinty eyes of distrust. I had seen that look at other times in our forty-year marriage. With marriage full of negotiations and compromises, I had drawn a hard line in the sand regarding having more than three children. With our third just two years old, she had mysteriously forgotten the intolerable pain (the kind of pain that had her swearing at me, cursing the doctor, tossing the blood pressure cup, and leaving the bed a sweaty mess) of childbirth and plotted for number four. Finally, she mustered the courage to ask me and I immediately said, unequivocally and without a shred of hesitation… “yes.” She was expecting an emphatic “no!” Her disbelief was soon replaced by suspicion thinking I was cooking up a deal. “Yes, but then I want…”
It is not untypical for an apologist to think it necessary to explain the indiscretion. An excuse if you will. So, the “I am sorry” is all too often followed with a “but.” The attached ‘excuse’ nearly always negates the apology turning it into a non-apology allowing you to retain your dignity. That way a mistake is not really a mistake but an unfortunate misunderstanding that led to hurt feelings. It gives meaning to the humorous line that finds its way into a eulogy now and then. “He made but one mistake in his life… he once thought he had made a mistake.”
For some inexplicable reason, the “I am sorry” without a ‘but’ sends me into a state of nostalgia. I think back to my first encounters with ‘the apology.’
When still a young boy, others attempted to teach me how to apologize. Mother would sometimes insist on an apology to a sibling if the peace required it. When at school and in a dust-up with another boy and perceived the perpetrator, the schoolyard monitor would hold me up by my ear while twisting it and demand that I apologize to the little jerk.
Even at that young age, I had watched just enough Gunsmoke to have seen how the bad guys torture you till you tell where the loot is buried. And if you tell them, they shoot you anyway. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s the image I saw when I stood bent in pain from my ear being twisted and held tight as if in a vice.
Experience had taught me that any hesitancy to issue an apology on ideological or moral grounds or the indignation one gets from not being able to properly explain your innocence, will simply get your ear twisted tighter. If I plead for a short reprieve to explain the circumstances, the twisting continues till you’re certain your flesh is tearing, and the blood will soon form a pool. Even the kids who gathered to watch this bit of schoolyard justice are grimacing with empathy. The monitor was judge, jury, and torturer.
When observing this schoolyard drama, I came to admire those who courageously avoided the forced apology. They would focus their attention on the torturer and squeal like pink piglets when caught by their ears. It’s a horrendous high-pitched torturous screech that often startles the torturer into thinking maybe justice, in this case, isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe the fear the squealing suggests was all the justice necessary. The tactic nearly always worked, and the ear was let go to unwind. As the kid left the scene, he would often yell, “I’m tellin’ my dad.” He never did fearing unintended consequences.
Unwilling to squeal like a pig, I would always capitulate early thinking my ear not worth losing despite this obvious miscarriage of justice. “Sorry.” Like a coward, I left the scene dejected, demoralized, and cupping my ear hoping my hearing would return. I knew my parents well enough that if told of the incident, they would come up with their own form of torture to make sure I understood that life was not going to be fair. “Dishes alone for a week! Now go to your room!”
Somewhere between then and now, I came under the influence of apology logic. Take, for example, the legal logic that one never apologize as that is considered an admission of guilt. Or political logic that the buck actually stops somewhere else so never apologize. Or our culture’s contemporary logic that insists one must receive an apology to be forgiven so we can resume our relationship, our life, where we left off. But like in Gunsmoke, issuing an apology does not always result in being forgiven. They cancel you anyway.
Then I ran across Robert Brault, blogger and author, who took a sledgehammer to my logic when he said, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” What? Where is the equity in that utterance?
I read it again slowly. “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”
If that bit of heresy were to permeate our culture today, can you imagine the change- the kind of change John Lennon dared imagine?
Imagine no one demanding a knee choosing to live in harmony.
Imagine all the human colors from all of history giving each other grace and mercy.
Imagine glorious heights when all our dreams encouraged and given daylight.
Imagine a gentle ocean breeze warming us with love and peace till all is forgiven.
Imagine 1 Corinthians 13: Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
And why did my wife nearly faint when I apologized without a ‘but?’ I think Mark Matthews, University of Michigan grad and author, offers a clue. He wrote, “Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.”
Aha! Then she ate my plums.
This is Just to Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold”
― William Carlos Williams