“I’ve skirted all my differences, but now I’m facing up. I wanted to apologize for everything I was, so… I’m sorry.” – R.E.M.
When I was a kid I remember my mother giving me “the look,” the one that said I did something wrong and I needed to somehow make it right. But I never knew what it was I did wrong in the first place, and I had absolutely no idea how to make it right. She would sit me down and explain what I did wrong. Maybe I pulled my sister’s hair, or I stole the Kool-Aid, or I forgot to feed the guinea pig, or one of a million other things I tended to mess up during the course of my short life up until that point. But that was the easy part, coming up with the problem; it was the solution that always proved to be difficult.
I’m sorry. Why was that always so hard to say? Maybe because I wasn’t. Not really. Not ever. I mean, I knew how to say the words, but at that time, being that young, they really didn’t mean anything when they passed my lips. the words became the equivalent of how most people give sympathy. “I know how you feel.” But they don’t know, and they can’t know, because they’re not you. “I’m sorry” for me meant that I knew someone wanted it of me, not that I was able or willing to give it willingly, not if I actually thought it meant something. The only thing I was ever truly sorry for was that I got caught. Cliche, but true.
And yet I was really good at saying I was sorry when something wasn’t actually my fault. What’s up with that?
“I’ve had the worst day at work, son.”
It wasn’t my fault she had a rough day at work, but I was ready with that phrase, like it was Robin to my Batman, always ready to help save the day, even if the day didn’t necessarily need saving. So why was it so easy for me to say when it wasn’t actually true? I think maybe it’s because in our society we’re programmed to feel like it’s a way of giving sympathy instead of a way of taking blame. In its role as sympathizer, “I’m sorry” works very well because it doesn’t involve any true sympathy, just mindless words that aren’t even really heard by the person who elicited them. If you had a really rough day at work, you just want to talk about it, you don’t really need someone to respond, just to listen.
Since then, though, things have changed a little bit when it comes to saying I’m sorry because I’ve actually started to feel it. I’m no longer a mindless robot who thinks he does no wrong, or who celebrates in stealing the Kool-Aid. These many years of life have humbled me so that I say those words only when I mean them, not as standard conversation fare when someone tells me something horrible. If it wasn’t my fault, I don’t accept it as such, but when it is my fault I am the first one to acknowledge it. And what truly amazes me is that I’m no longer sorry for getting caught, because I don’t allow it to go that far.
Now, I’m not saying I’m perfect. Far from it. And sometimes taking responsibility for something is incredibly difficult, even now. I want people to see me a certain way, but the best way to do that is to be that person, and to own up when I’m not. It’s taken many years and many serious issues to get me to this point, but it feels so good being able to finally say that. No longer am I the apologist, saying what I think people want me to say. And I recommend it to everyone. It’s honestly freeing.