Robert Kirby is on vacation. This is a reprint of an earlier column.
I wronged someone years ago. I won’t tell you her name. She wouldn’t appreciate turning up in one of my columns today. Nor will I get into the specifics of my crime other than to say that I intentionally hurt her feelings.
Actually, I’ve wronged a bunch of people. I’ve been both bad and busy in my life. But this was the first time I tried to make it right.
My conscience, which on a good day could easily fit under a contact lens, got the better of me. I started thinking about what a jerk I’d been to someone who really hadn’t deserved it.
When I couldn’t stand myself anymore, I trudged over to my victim’s house and rang the doorbell. I expected anger and perhaps even to have the door slammed in my face.
This one was tougher than most. The person who answered the door was enormous and absolutely delighted to see me. He grabbed my face like a bowling ball and yanked me inside.
The easiest apologies to offer are the semihysterical ones, like when your feet aren’t touching the ground, and an ogre with Marlboro breath and a James Dean haircut wants to know why you made his little sister cry.
Years later, I recall only that my response was heartfelt and shrill. Infinitely more memorable is the loutish observation regarding the ease with which my head was going to fit inside my bottom.
The procedure was forestalled by the sudden appearance of my victim. She demanded my release and forced her brother from the room. I thanked everyone for their time and excused myself on my belly.
My victim followed me outside and down the street. On a corner, I finally apologized for what I had originally said that made her cry. In doing so, I actually made her cry again.
Forgiveness was not immediately forthcoming. I had to listen to the specifics of her pain, which took the better part of an hour and left me feeling worse. In the end, she promised to try to forgive me.
We never became friends. We didn’t even say hello to each other in the hall at school. But I had done what I needed to in order to make it right. It was a good lesson to learn, even if it hurt.
We all leave a trail of pain as we go. For most, it’s a thoughtless footprint here and there. For others, it can be a deliberately trampled swath of agony extending to the horizon.
Insult, injury, utter devastation — human beings tear each other up in a variety of ways. Worse, we tell ourselves that old business partners, ex-spouses, former friends, new enemies and even just those we casually dismiss deserved what we gave them.
The tough part is apologizing when you know it won’t be received well. But sometimes the tougher an apology is to make, the more necessary it probably is.
There’s no guarantee of forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, but there’s no better time to ask for it.
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