Ellie has fallen victim to over-apologizing in her past. But an encounter with her roommate made her realize that there’s power in intentional apologies — and intentional forgiveness. Here’s how (and why) she’s working towards bringing more meaning to her words.
The other day while frying up some eggs for dinner, I decided to check if my broken washing machine’s door had decided to unlock itself after trapping all of my roommates’ essential clothes for about 36 hours. The good news — it had. The bad news — fifteen gallons of freezing, soapy water and sopping unwashed clothing was expelled like opened floodgates at the moment of my mistake. I frantically grabbed a plastic bowl to start collecting some of the waterfall, which turned out to be a colander and therefore hilariously useless, and called my roommate in for help. Tensely attempting to explain what had happened, it must have been unclear that I (or, my curiosity) had been the cause of this problem, for when I muttered something chastising myself, she paused, holding her drenched white puffer coat as if it were a limp, dying animal.
“Hold on, I was just going to leave it until the repairman came. I thought the door started leaking by itself — you opened it?” Major gulp.
Ugh, so sorry about the delay! Sorry, just a minute. I have no idea what I’m doing, sorry. Sorry, can I just open this drawer underneath you and grab the cinnamon? Sorry if I was being loud last night while you were trying to study. Sorry, sorry, so sorry…
I think the word “sorry” might sit in my top five most frequently used vocabulary words, along with “like” and “love” and maybe “okay” and “yes.” But the interesting thing I have noticed is how very rarely it comes out of my mouth attached to the pronoun “I.” (I find this to be true with the word “love,” too. “Love that for you.” “Love you, bye!” Sorry, I digress…)
I mutter “sorry” so much that I have left it threadbare in meaning. Maybe you do, too. In routinely and thoughtlessly detaching the “I” subject from “I’m sorry,” we have reduced it to merely a filler word. And this is bigger than a question of formality and more than a consideration of good manners. The “sorry” I am so concerned about is the one that is met, by its essential nature, with forgiveness — because it is that very word which allows “love to triumph over anger and vengeance.” In the same way a “thank you” comes most sincerely married to “you’re welcome” (not a “yep” or “no prob” or “no worries” or, surely worst of all, “it’s whatever”), the expression “I am sorry,” as an apology for having wronged someone in some way, is most sincerely met by one conclusion: “I forgive you.”
But now I wonder: why do we forgive? And, how? With just words? No — rather, I suppose the words must be accompanied by our intentions and our thoughts. If we truly feel contrite for having wronged someone, and we truly desire to be placed back in that person’s good graces, then we can truly ask for forgiveness. How crucial, then, is the “I.” I am sorry. Will you forgive me?
I don’t think forgiving requires minimizing the hurt, the wrong. I can acknowledge that what was done to me was wrong, maybe significantly so, but if I am overcome with love and a desire to move forward, how wonderful would it be to utter that revolutionary three-word phrase, that gift: I forgive you. I see it as a sign of love to affix yourself to your apology, a gesture of that same love to humbly ask for one’s forgiveness, and a triumphant gift of love to grant forgiveness in this way. What a joy it would be to mimic that forgiveness which God offers us and which brings us so much joy!
My generation seems to be submerged in this sea of sorries. And I believe the only way out is to add intention back to our apologies — and our forgiveness. When is the last time you truly felt forgiven? What if we experiment with this giving and receiving in our day-to-day life? In a text, a phone call, at dinner with your roommates, bringing up that thing you know is still a little off between you and your friend. I wonder how much joy we can fizz into this race-paced world from a re-inflation of our “sorries” with intentionality, with meaning. In this way, we can allow the love we sometimes hide inside to triumph in the relationships we hold dear. As if we, in more properly asking for forgiveness and forgiving, could be floodgates, too, releasing joy that has been dammed up by empty unfinished apologies and frozen-pizza-hard feelings for years and years.
“Yes… This is my fault. I am so sorry.” Giant sigh.
“I simply did not have time for this today.”
A crushing feeling of shame overcame me, but we proceeded to work in silent unison to mop up the soaking floorboards, collect and dump the water, wring out the clothes in the kitchen sink, and sprint with them to the window lines to hang. I awkwardly scraped my carbonized eggs from their pan and retreated to my room to eat in silence, hoping to give us some space. I should have just left the door. Why in the world did I do that?
After finishing dinner, I re-entered the common space of our kitchen-laundry-room-eating area (a common setup in the small town in Spain we’re living in) and, with the energy that still managed to muster its way into my system through my crispy protein meal and some contrite chewing, tried again, tried to live the way of words I write, tried to swim up for air.
“Look, that was so silly of me. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“Of course, I forgive you,” she said from the table between bites of a chocolate bar. Eyes met. No hesitation.
“Oh… Thank you.” I grabbed my own bar of chocolate from the cupboard, stepped around the damp floor, and joined her at our table.
So maybe, sometimes, the escape from that sea of sorries is simple. And I think the attempt itself must be one of the sweetest exhibits of pure and holy love.