Apologies and Forgiveness

Back in 1977 I made a phone call. It was to a college friend. He had gotten a job as a news anchor in Eau Claire, I think. I was doing some part-time work at a radio station in Oshkosh, and working weekdays in a factory. I had just gotten married, but hadn’t really launched my career yet.

My air shift went until midnight, so around 10:45, during a long record, I called the station where my friend worked, knowing he would be off the air by then.

When he answered the phone I said I’d called to let him know I’d gotten married and such. His response was a rather snippy, “why did you think I would care?”

I took the hint, said goodbye, and shortened my Christmas card list by one. I actually didn’t have a Christmas card list, but you get my point. It stung a bit, and I didn’t understand his reaction, but I reasoned that people move on, and that was that.

Fast forward thirty-seven and a half years, and in the mail I find a letter from this fellow. He apologized for the way in which he responded to me back in the day, and said some kind things about me, and how I had influenced his life.

To say I was surprised would be a major understatement. I was very pleased, however, that he had taken the opportunity to get it off his chest. It was a really courageous thing to do, and I respect him a lot for it. I told him that when I wrote back.

A few years ago I wrote about a woman who had called me on the Jewish “Day of Atonement” to apologize for something she had said or done. I had hardly recalled the incident, but thanked her very much for reaching out to say she was sorry. That call surprised me too, partly because I wasn’t aware she was Jewish.

I say “I’m sorry” a lot, but mostly for little things. There are a few people I’ve wronged in a significant way over the decades, I’m sure, and if I can dredge up those memories – buried in some sad place in my brain – I’d like to think I’d reach out to those people to apologize.

It is said that there are two kinds of sorry: one is unsolicited, and the other is being sorry for getting caught. That’s the one we see most in the news from politicians and other public figures.

Of course the best way to avoid making apologies is to not do anything wrong to anyone, but unfortunately most of us are humans, and by definition we aren’t perfect. It’s good to remember that when someone hurts us or does something thoughtless.

When bad things like that happen, we have the opportunity to forgive the offending party and move on with our lives. When those people take the time and courage to apologize, perhaps they can start the harder task of forgiving themselves.


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