I’m Sorry

(This is a strange place, my blog. I spend a fair amount of time telling stories of the past I’ve uncovered in the archives. Occasionally I offer a contemporary political rant. Once in a while I spill my guts about my own past. And now here is just a rambling of thoughts that haven’t fully taken shape, certainly aren’t earth-shatteringly brilliant or new, and may mean nothing outside my own head. But as thoughts they continue to grow…)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Victim-Impact Statements, Formal Government apologies, Consultative Group on the Past, friend-to-friend texts: “I’m sorry”

We don’t say “sorry” to get away from the past. Apologies don’t erase the past. They reinforce it.

I have wounded others. I have lied and offended. I have gossiped and betrayed. I have forgotten about people and cut down others with my words. Intentionally and unintentionally.

I have been wounded by others. I’ve been lied to, gossiped about and betrayed. I have had my body invaded and my heart crushed. Literally, figuratively. Intentionally,  unintentionally.

I’ve seen both sides of that coin and experienced the way one side leads to the other with pain received begetting pain given and back again. It can be a cycle that seems impossible to break. A spiral of wounding.

As humans, we initiate coping mechanisms to help us deal with the pain life seems inevitably to bring. As a child, I learned early on the skill of pushing painful memories just past the edge of my consciousness, careful never to look at pain too directly for fear of being inexorably broken by it.  Internal veils and doors helped hide the wounds. And as a result the memories inside seemed ever-shifting.  As an adult, I feel a tendency to do the same thing – finding it hard to anchor painful memories in place even now.

But I’ve been thinking about how apologies change that tendency.

Apologies don’t hide the past. Apologies bring the past to light, they strip away veils. Apologies act as anchors.

Apologies say – yes, I see what happened. Yes, what happened was real. Yes, what happened was painful. Yes, what happened wasn’t your fault. Apologies by perpetrators say – I take responsibility for that and I ask for forgiveness because I own the way I’ve hurt you.

Apologies can offer definition and substantiveness.  They can stop the doubt-laden shifting that pain creates inside. Apologies can anchor in us a certainty about the legitimacy of our pain. Even when the apology is offered by a witness rather than a perpetrator, the edges of our pain become less blurred. And it becomes easier to release our grip on that pain.

But what do we do when there are no apologies? How do we stop the shifting of our pain when there is no one to say – yes, I see it too? How do we move forward without that anchor? I know that I have missed many apologies over the years – lacking maturity or insight or humility when I ought to have been saying “I’m sorry.” And I know that for many of the wounds I’ve received, I will never know any form of apology or acknowledgment. That is the reality of life in our world. And it’s hard.

“I’m sorry” doesn’t erase the past, it engraves it into the greater story of our histories.


Derry, Northern Ireland


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