On apologizing and making amends

“Oh, laws,” you’re thinking. “She doesn’t write forever and then she gives us one with song lyrics… it’s always a hard thoughtful one when there are song!lyrics!” Hey. At least I just pepper the lyrics in there as words, and don’t do some horrific 90s music pop-up that plays the song loudly as you’re reading this at work and stresses you out because you can’t figure out how to turn that shit off. And I will warn you that I’ve been writing this for days in my head, so hopefully I don’t skip around too much and go off on tangents. But I might. You’ve been warned.

Anyway. Moving on.

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When the rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on
Don’t think twice it’s all right
— Bob Dylan

It seems like we get really hung up on apologies in this culture. That person wronged me! They should apologize! They should pay for wronging me! They should SUFFER for wronging me! I want them to burn in the fires of hell every day! … … … I’ve always kind of been more of a … Well, that person did me wrong, but… what’s more important? That they apologize for it? Or is how I come out of the situation more important? … I mean, who do I have to live with? That person? Or myself? Who is more important? What is more important? That I possibly get an apology? Or that I protect myself and live the best way I can? If someone is so much of a garbage human that they don’t realize I’ve been hurt, I would rather walk away and live a better life over there, far away from them, than hover around punching the air and demanding they be sorry. Rather than continue to poison myself with shitty garbage people, I will just choose to be gone. And I won’t think twice about leaving.

Don’t be afraid to be weak
Don’t be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence.
If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself don’t hide
Just believe in destiny.
Don’t care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don’t give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.
-MC Curly for Enigma

But. In choosing to walk away? I also have to choose to be kind, to choose a loving life, because I don’t like who I am when I live in anger. I don’t like what that does to my heart, what it does to my outlook, and how I treat people when my heart only has room for fear and anger and hatred. Yes, those are hard to get rid of. But I like being happy, and those emotions don’t make me happy. I like being kind, and those emotions don’t leave room for kindness. I like facing the world with love not because I think nothing will hurt me if I do, but because I believe that facing the world with love no matter what it dishes out, makes me a better person. Not a person better than someone else, but a person who does better things than she did yesterday and behaves better than she did the day before and loves people more than she did yesterday and is more kind than she was the day before. Loves herself more and treats her self better than she did yesterday. Sees the value in herself and other people. It’s hard to choose love. Anyone can wallow in anger and regret, it’s fucking easy; I choose to… if not forgive people, to choose to live a life of love without regard to them.

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why?
Love love love love love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
– like thirty people are credited with writing this; Google it.

Anyway! Enough about me! Back to apologizing. There’s a difference between saying one is sorry, and living ones life in a way that constantly tries to do better. I would almost rather walk away from someone and find out years later that they have spent the rest of their life trying to do better by people, than get some sort of half-assed, not really heartfelt apology. I mean, who HASN’T been told at some point, when hurt or wronged, “I’m sorry you feel that way”. What the fuck kind of apology is that? “I’m sorry that you were offended by me being a garbage human.” No. No you’re not. First off, what you’re saying is that you’re sorry that I have emotions, not that you did something awful. Second, you’re not sorry you behaved like a knuckle-dragging cretin, you’re sorry you got called out on that shit. So fuck you. Was it Rust on True Detective who said, “if he were drowning, I’d throw him a fuckin’ barbell”….?

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
Light I never know’d
It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Goodbye is too good a word gal
So I’ll just say “fair-thee-well”
I ain’t saying you treated me unkind
You could have done better, but I don’t mind
And you just sorta wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice it’s all right
— Bob Dylan

I tell you what I would, nine and a half times out of ten, rather have than an apology. A good life. If I don’t feel that I’m going to get a meaningful apology, if I get any inkling in my heart that this person is just going to continue to make me miserable, I will walk away. I will burn that shit to the ground and get out. And after I leave, I will – usually – not spend too much time dwelling on that person and their actions. That guy that broke up with me over email when he was a full grown adult capable of speech and communication? That shit was on him. There was nothing wrong with *me*… he was a coward. That girl who used to prank phone call me in the 5th and 6th grade? Screw her. There was something wrong in her life, in her psyche, that made her unkind. If she chose to make herself feel better by making other people feel worse, that shit was on her. I don’t have to choose to feel bad about myself, as if I deserved to be made fun of – I am not what she thought of me. If she even thought of me at all – maybe she was too wrapped up in her own pain and insecurity to think about someone else. I could go on but honestly… I don’t even remember every time I was “wronged”. You can call that denial, but I call it choosing to live well; that means not picking at the scab of cuts made long ago when they have no reason to still be hurting my heart.  I am not the sum of having added everything that’s happened to me – instead, I am how I choose to react to and what I take from those experiences. When I add up what I’ve taken from the the things that have happened to me, well… I know my worth and I am valuable.

I believe, fate,
Fate smiled
And destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way, she’ll make her way
– Natalie Merchant

If I feel guilt about the way I have behaved or treated someone, I will try to give the most honest apology that I can, and that includes changing my actions in future events. Not continuing to make the choices that got me to the original place where I wronged someone… actively deciding to live in a better way. And more than someone apologizing to me (although don’t get me wrong, a good apology can do wonders)… I appreciate it more when I see them deliberately making the choice to not behave that way again. When I see someone not just apologizing, but making amends. When I see them choosing a new lifestyle – yeah, maybe even a harder one. Because we all have patterns and comfortable ways of being and it’s hard to step out of that when we realize that how we’ve been being is a shitty garbage human.

After all it’s what we’ve done
That makes us what we are
– Jim Croce

There’s a difference between apologizing and making amends. It’s hard to own up to doing something wrong, but it’s even harder to change the way you live so that you don’t do those wrong things again in the future. You can say you’re sorry for anything. I’m sorry I didn’t reach out to you when I saw you were hurting. I’m sorry I borrowed your car without asking. I’m sorry my rent is late for the third month in a row. I’m sorry that I, a full-grown adult, felt you up in the back of a car when you were 13. Don’t just say you’re sorry for those things. Make things right in the future. Spend as much time as you need wearing the other person’s shoes, and trying to be a person who sees the situation from their point of view. Then spend the rest of your life being cognizant of your friend’s feelings and asking them if they’re OK. Spend the rest of your life asking before taking things. Spend the rest of your life paying your bills on time like a fucking adult. Spend the rest of your life not being a sleazy garbage human who hits on girls half your age. Because if you don’t make those changes, and you reach out to me, I really don’t give a fuck. Not in an “I hate you” way, but more in a…. “you don’t even appear on my radar” way. I may get closure from what you say but I am not required to friend you on Facebook or strike up a regular email exchange about our lives. I know my worth and reconstructing a relationship with you may not be an emotional cost that I am willing to devalue myself to have.

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name gal
I can’t hear you anymore

Don’t think twice it’s all right
— Bob Dylan

This is a risk you run when you apologize to someone: there’s no telling how they’re going to react. Should you still reach out, though, across the years? And say that you’re sorry? And say that you’ve spent the rest of your life paying for what you owe? Absolutely. If you have genuinely faced your wrongs, are deeply and honestly apologizing, are true about making amends… you should let the person for whom you have guilt in your heart, know. Just keep in mind that the person to whom you apologize is not required to forgive you or suddenly become your friend. If you’ve been trouble their entire life, if you are, for example, that drug-using cousin who spent years in and out of trouble and maybe even at the end of your uncle’s life, stole morphine from his bedside because you are a sleazy garbage human….? You could spend the next 20 years getting and staying clean, and maybe even becoming a drug counselor and helping teenagers turn their lives around before it’s too late… and nobody in your family is required to laugh and forgive and forget when you come to them with your apology and amends. But even if they don’t, it is still a beautiful and life-affirming action for you to reach out. Not being accepted (or not accepting and forgiving) doesn’t mean the apology can’t help you find peace and closure.

This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I’ll never tread
These are the dreams I’ll dream instead
This is the joy that’s seldom spread
These are the tears
The tears we shed
This is the fear
This is the dread
These are the contents of my head
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
And this is how I feel
Do you know how I feel?
‘Cause I don’t think you know how I feel
– Calvin Taylor for Annie Lennox

A few weeks ago (about the time that this Shingles outbreak started, and don’t think that I didn’t sadly and madly giggle to myself when all y’all said “you must be really stressed, Shingles happens in times of real stress!”) … a few weeks ago I got a letter from someone I haven’t seen in probably twenty-five years, apologizing for something he did. (Side note: what he did is not important, and I may actually never say what it was. It wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and the point of the story isn’t what happened – the point is what I am taking from it.) It’s a lot to unpack, in my head, and as I told a friend, I don’t even know where to start, how to start, unpacking. It’s like one of those closets that you know if you take that one small hand towel out, fucking piles of sheets and blankets and towels and jackets and maybe even a broom handle are all going to come crashing out. But for shit’s sake, you are so ready to throw that damn ugly hand towel out it’s worth it to have to clean out the whole closet to do it. So this post, and probably one or two more as I have time and emotional energy, are about me cleaning out that proverbial closet.

6 comments

  1. This is a helpful post for me today. I am often not brave enough to walk away. Don’t realize my value and self worth. I know I need to work on that, yet I forget. I forget that I need to keep working at it and that it is okay to walk away, sometimes better, even. Your words help, thank you for sharing them.

    • You’re very welcome. You are valuable… and on your shoulders is also the responsibility to raise a daughter who will intrinsically trust that she is also worthwhile, and a son who will grow up to respect and honor women. <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *