The Art of Apology
I recently posted this graphic on Instagram with the following caption:
Have you ever received a non-apology? You know, the one that goes “I’m sorry you feel that way”?
Yeah, that’s a bullshit passive-aggressive way to say “kiss off, I’m NOT sorry at all.” I am guilty of giving that same bullshit non apology at least once. NOTE: Any time the word YOU follows the words I’m sorry? NOT an apology.
But the greatest letter I ever received was a letter of apology that followed these guidelines. It was from my dad. He took responsibility for the shitshow of my childhood and apologized for his actions to complete his 8th step in AA. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
And 32 years later? It is still my most treasured possession and the single most powerful apology I have ever received. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Learning to apologize is not some kind of abstract art form. It is a measure of sincerity, a true act of love.
I’ve pondered it a quite a bit since I wrote the post and I’d like to expand on it here.
Apologies are hard. There is no way around it. It is difficult to humble yourself and apologize EVEN IF you feel like you were right.
Years ago when I was in my 20’s, I offended a friend with an offhand remark. And I had NO IDEA. Until she called me and told me how offended she was. I was flabbergasted. My intention at the time was humor, it was absolutely, unquestionably, NOT to offend anyone.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I thought she was being a little hypersensitive on the issue. I mean, really. It was not a big deal. BUT, to her? It was a big deal. A very big deal. I realized as we spoke I did not have the luxury of deciding her feelings for her. I didn’t get to choose whether she was offended or not. She was. And my words were the cause. In that moment I realized that I had two alternatives: I could offer her a sincere apology and continue the friendship with grace, or I could tell her she was being overly sensitive and that since I intended no ill will, she would need to let it go, which would undoubtedly insert a wedge in that friendship.
I SAY there were two alternatives, but for me there really wasn’t. I took a deep breath, humbled myself, and offered her a sincere apology. Our friendship continued and I became more cognizant of how my humor could be perceived. The experience basically made me a better joker.
When my dad got sober, he sent a letter he typed out in all capital letters making amends for my childhood. In part, he wrote:
I APOLOGIZE FOR THE MANY MISSED OR BURNT MEALS, THE MANY FUNCTIONS NOT ATTENDED, THE MANY FRIENDS NOT MADE BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW WHO YOUR PARENTS WERE, THE MISSED VACATIONS, THE LIFE OF EFFECTIVE POVERTY AND THE OTHER THINGS TOO COUNTLESS TO MENTION THAT WERE THE DIRECT OR INDIRECT RESULT OF MY USE OF ALCOHOL.
I love that letter with everything in me because in it, my dad gave me his heart.
He was a lot of things, my dad, but that man was authentic and genuine. He offered truth (even to those who never asked for it), and he showed me what it meant to take responsibility for your actions and apologize for your offenses, even when they weren’t really meant to be offensive or even yours to apologize for.
My dad apologized for the missed or burnt meals, but my dad was working up until dinner time. My mother was the homemaker whose role in our family was to feed her children. But that’s unquestionably hard to do when you’re drunk. So, I fed myself a lot of times. Peanut butter and syrup sandwiches, peanut butter and granulated sugar sandwiches, slices of bread with Miracle Whip. Whatever I could find. It wasn't the best lesson on cooking or eating right, but I sure learned how to make do with what I had.
The bigger challenge for me is accepting the apology I never got. The one from my mother. My mother never chose sobriety. She died with alcohol in her system, still thirsty to quench the loneliness and self-loathing that defined her life. And although she never apologized to me, I saw her for the person she was. She was a lost soul, in desperate need of the smallest bit of hope in herself. I forgive her anyway, not because it changes my history or makes light of the darkness I lived with growing up. I forgive her because it changes my present. It deepens my ability to show grace and love, despite my own hurt. And that's the type of person I want to be. I get to choose.
Apologies are, indeed, hard. And sometimes, so is forgiveness.
But they are not impossible.
I wish you peace.