I received a letter from an old boyfriend today—it seems he wanted to say he was sorry.
I can’t call this a letter or an apology, though. It is, at best, a cryptic email. It consisted of one fragmented sentence—eight words, which included “sorry.”
After a close friend and I deemed him the likely sender, I felt a sudden wave of disappointment. I sat down upon the cold, hardwood floor in my bedroom to collect my thoughts. I gazed off to the side for clarity, and my head shook from side to side—as to say, “No, no, no.”
I guess I’d wished or expected that, after all this time, he’d express himself clearly—with grace and maturity. Perhaps, quietly, I held out hope he’d grown emotionally. And, it’s possible, his note brought back the awful memories of the twisted games he played when we were younger.
I wrote a piece on Elephant Journal months ago about the relationship we shared—and the difficult lessons I learned 30 years ago. He may have read the article and recognized himself in it. I can’t be certain of this, though. He didn’t mention it in his email. The truth is, there was no real mention of anything.
I can’t and won’t reply back to him to ask, “Who is this?” nor will I try to authenticate his writing. I’m sure this is what he envisioned when he clicked “send.” He wanted me to do his work for him. But, this scenario—this cat and mouse game—does not intrigue me.
Honest and direct communication is what interests me now, and he can engage with me in that forum.
Had he read what I wrote, he would know I forgave him. He’d know I’d forgiven myself for what happened between us—ages ago. He’d understand we don’t need to feel ashamed of our past.
I am not an expert on writing or saying I’m sorry. This experience, however, has opened my eyes to what forgiveness means, the work we must do on our own, and how we may come to ask for it from another.
Here is what I’ve learned so far on what forgiveness means:
1. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. We must reconcile with the harm we have inflicted or received. This is our healing journey, and it is independent of another offering or accepting an apology.
2. “You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end, the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” ~ Maya Angelou
3. An apology is not given in order to clear our guilty conscience. It is our own responsibility to cope with our feelings of remorse and shame.
4. “Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.” ~ Nelson Mandela
5. When we ask another for their forgiveness, it is their choice whether to welcome it or not. We must accept their decision; they may not be ready to forgive.
6. Some may choose to forgive but not to forget. We must be prepared to respect the changes that will be made to the relationship.
7. “Reconciliation does not mean forgetting or trying to bury the pain of conflict, but that reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.” ~ Nelson Mandela
8. An apology is not simply telling another what they want to hear.
9. Only say the words “I’m sorry” when you truly mean them, otherwise you lose your credibility.
10. An apology is sincere when empathy and accountability are present.
11. Have an intention in mind when apologizing. The desired outcome may be: to create peace, to heal an old wound, take responsibility, or communicate openly.
12. Apologies are written personally and individually for each intended recipient; form letters are dismissive.
13. Humility is a practice. We can rest assured that as long as we are human, we will inevitably make some horrible mistakes. We can work to let go of our pride and need for perfection. This allows us to experience an intimate connection to our self and others—through compassion.
14. “Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life—to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering, a greatly restricted flow of life energy, and in many cases, physical disease. The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind.” ~ Eckhart Tolle