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Sunday, January 10, 2016

“Is it too late now to say ‘Sorry’?” No. Never!

A friend posed this question: Is the English word ‘sorry’ adequate to repair a relationship or heal a wounded heart – especially when you have caused the hurt, and want to repent, redeem and rebuild?
The simple answer is that as long as you feel sorry, genuinely sorry, and the feeling is arising from within your inner core, it doesn’t really matter what language you use. Language is just a medium of expression. It is the feeling that matters the most. And feeling sorry requires you to be brutally honest with yourself: you must drop all analysis, justification and judgment. When you have realized that you messed up, just own the accountability for what has happened and apologize. Period.

But willingness to apologize is often accompanied by two more, often debilitating, emotions: grief over what happened; and guilt over how you have contributed to what has happened. I have learnt that anyone genuinely repenting a mistake often gets caught between grief and guilt. You begin to ask yourself the same question that my friend has posed – is saying ‘sorry’ adequate? This is when you should refuse to hold on to the grief and guilt for too long. Yet don’t resist the grief or the guilt – it will then persist. Instead, examine your grief and guilt. See the futility of holding on to them. Forgive yourself for your indiscretion or transgression or misdemeanor and move on. Chances are you will be forgiven by the party that you hurt. Chances are you may not or never be forgiven. Remember – you can never control another person’s thoughts or actions. Whatever be the other party’s stand, be clear that you must forgive yourself – only this can restore your inner peace.

I have talked about my experiences with feeling genuinely sorry, and overcoming grief and guilt, in several contexts, in my Book “Fall Like A Rose Petal” (Westland, 2014). One incident that I haven’t shared so far, however, pertains to a conversation that I once had, many years ago, with my dad in the lobby of Hotel Connemara in Chennai.

I have for long had a poor chemistry with my mother. On one occasion, the acrimony between my mother and I was really suffocating. I wanted to somehow try and force her to see reason and consider my point of view. So, I decided to talk to my dad in private, hoping to involve him in communicating with my mother on my behalf. We met at the hotel lobby and sat there for over an hour. I first shared what I wanted to. My dad did not say anything. He was just silent. I implored him, then I tried cajoling him, then I threatened him – demanding that he commit to telling my mother to “change her ways”. But my dad was deadpan. He continued to remain silent. In that entire hour, only I spoke – pleadingly, menacingly, softly, loudly. He never uttered a word. When I realized that this approach was not working out, in utter frustration, I blamed my dad by way of wrapping up the monologue and by way of a summary: “Appa, you are a vegetable (I used a stronger, stinging word by way of an aphorism but will not quote it here); if you had put Amma in her place long ago, there would have been peace and we would not have such a fractious environment in the family.” My words must have stung and I am sure my dad was hurt. But he said nothing. He just wiped his eyes, smiled at me, got up and walked away. Years later, perhaps on account of the spiritual awakening that I have had, I realized that the only way for me to handle the relationship I (don’t) have with my mother is to be both silent and distant. I concluded that she just cannot change; or see reason; at least in matters concerning me! When this realization dawned on me, I could not help but agree with my dad’s approach of employing stoic silence. I felt ashamed, angry, guilty and grief-stricken for the way in which I had hurt my dad. The hurt lingered on in me for a long time – until one day, I apologized to him in person. Again he said nothing. He just smiled back.

‘Sorry’ may seem like one word but involves a lot of hard work. This is what must be fundamentally understood: Do you genuinely feel the apology that you want to offer? Are you willing to first face and then let go of the grief and guilt that may arrive with your saying sorry? Can you accept a situation where you can live with lack of clarity on whether you have been forgiven or not? And unlike what Canadian singer Justin Bieber wonders in his recent chart-topping single ‘Sorry’, it is never too late to say a sorry. If you feel it, simply say it. And, no matter what follows, just forget about it! 

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