It’s just past the middle of the summer: About six weeks down, five to go. We’ve had a lot of fun but my boys are growing tired of each other, as brothers do, and they find unique and clever ways to annoy each other every day. And when they do, I make them do a Forced Apology, also the Forced Apology Acceptance.
You know what I’m referring to: One kid trespasses against another in some form (a toy is swiped, a kick is rendered, a name is called). Grownups intervene, survey the situation and Request An Apology. So Apologizing Child is placed before The Child Who Has Been Hurt and told to say they are sorry.
Not fighting for a moment.
“Sorry,” says AC, looking down, clearly not sorry.
TCWHBH is told to say it’s OK.
“It’s OK,” says the other child, clearly not OK and clearly understanding that AC isn’t really sorry.
Then they go back to whatever they were doing before the intervention, only now they are aware that they are being watched more closely, at least for a few minutes. You can see that the Apologizer is usually fine right away, but the recipient is often less enthusiastic than before, and who can blame them. Because we are a society that is really big on the public apology, no matter how insincere. True forgiveness is much, much tougher.
I don’t know how to deal with conflict between kids, mine or others. I know my boys love each other in the brotherly-beat-you-up-and-then-hug-you sort of way, so do I make them do this dance when I know it’s not sincere? How do I help the offended party move on?
I have found that in my adult life, it’s easy to be hurt and to carry that hurt around like a scab can pick at whenever you have a moment to think about it. To dissect how you could have done something different to avoid that hurt and how much you dislike the person/people who wounded you. Then you pick it some more until it’s more of an aching scar than a minor wound. Sometimes these go deep.
In reality, the person who hurt you probably isn’t thinking about you. In most cases, they are definitely not. Even if they’ve dashed off a ‘sorry,’ in your direction which is rare.
A few weeks ago, my Mom and I took my boys to a water park. We got there just before it opened, and there was a line to get in. We queued up and waited in the sun with our fellow bathers, with our bags of snacks and coolers and sweaty, impatient kids dancing in circles with excitement.
A man arrived at the back of the line with his family. He surveyed the scene and walked to the front of the line, where he waited for the gates to open. I looked around. All synapses of my rule-following mind were going crazy. “HEY!” my brain was screaming. “THAT DUDE JUST WENT TO THE FRONT!?!? WHAT IS HAPPENING!?!? THERE IS A LINE! SOMEONE TELL HIM TO GET TO THE BACK!”
I may have mentioned, slightly loudly, that the line applied to everyone. Even entitled douchebags and their entitled families. Not that he took any notice. It was not my proudest moment.
But I got myself together, the park opened, we waited and paid and shuffled in to find our seats and spread out on the towels and had a terrific day in the sun. Later that night, hours after getting home and washing the pungent chlorine out of everything and eating dinner and putting the boys to bed, thoughts of that jerk came back to me. What an entitled ass, I ruminated. What could I have done? Gone up and told him, in front of his stupid family, that there was a line and he could wait too? Somehow this was a white privilege thing, I decided. That GD Trump and his ilk make every entitled shit think that rules no longer apply to them…
I lay in bed and flipped and flopped in sweaty frustration. And then I stopped. I realized that I was literally losing sleep over someone I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and whom I would never encounter again. He was certainly not losing sleep over offending me and 20 other water park visitors.
I tortured myself and set myself up for a tired and crabby day tomorrow, where I would probably torture my family, too, due to my sleeplessness. Carrying around this anger in the night, this frustration for this random man was as pointless as being mad at a doorknob.
Years ago, a dear friend gave me a book when I was going through a difficult personal time. I was so angry. I was angry at a soon-to-be-ex spouse for wasting years of my life. I was angry at everyone I saw who seemed happy. I was mostly angry at myself. I told her all of these things and she smiled. She had been through her share of life’s challenges, and yet she was still smiling. How, I asked her, are you not angry?
“I was,” she admitted. “But I was wasting my life being mad.”
The book she recommended was Forgive for Good, by Dr. Fred Luskin. In it, Dr. Luskin writes that most of us are trying to ‘enforce the unenforceable’ rules we each subscribe to. For example, someone cuts us off in traffic. Someone has 16 items in the 10 item or less aisle. Small infractions day-to-day that are infuriating. Clearly others are not sorry, but the scars remain. The only way to get past the past is to forgive them. Then you are able to heal. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, one you richly deserve.
I turned over and breathed a sigh of forgiveness. I would let it go. I had more important things to do. Like for now, sleep. Which I also needed and deserved.
Recently one of the most heartbreaking victims of public shame was in the news again, this time for his ability to forgive. A young man had his life thrown into chaos due to an unlucky bounce of a baseball at Wrigley Field years ago. Through it all he’s refused to capitalize on this fluke that caused him to need police protection and turned his name into a punch line. This week the Chicago Cubs organization sent him a World Series ring of his own, and with this act of contrition and generosity, punctuated a very public statement of apology. The man accepted the ring, and his statement of forgiveness was brief and moving.
In part, he wrote: “I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society.” (italics mine)
Despite the terrible, terrible way he was treated, this young man has maintained his dignity and grace. He is forgiven, he has forgiven. And in the end, he wins. I bet he sleeps well, at least I hope so. I wish him the peace he deserves. That we all deserve. If he can forgive on a scale so colossal it’s almost impossible to comprehend, then maybe we can all be a little kinder to ourselves. And others.
So people will push and shove and kick you on the playground of life. They will say they are sorry and not mean it one bit. But hopefully you can move past it without wasting your time being mad at the doorknob.
I’m still working on it.