May Our Last Words Not Be, ‘I’m Sorry’
Thoughts on apologies, accountability, and imperfection
I’ve spent a lot of this year contemplating mortality. As I’ve done that, one of the most pressing thoughts I have had is this: “I don’t care what my final words are– just as long as they aren’t I’m sorry.” I want to have said all of my ” I'm sorrys” long before I reach the end of my life. And so I regularly tune into my heart, listening for the regrets and apologies that need to be spoken. I find one almost every day.
Everyone in the world makes hurtful mistakes, decisions, and choices. The idea that some people do and some don’t is a myth that’s been running its mouth since the beginning of clocked time. That myth is rooted in a belief in moral perfectionism, yet no one is morally perfect. Not our heroes. Not our saints. Not that wise person on Twitter who says everything right at the right time. Not your favorite poet (regardless of how charming and witty I am).
I haven’t, for decades, believed in the idea of good and bad people. Whenever I’m inclined to, I know I’m not right with myself. When I’m not right with myself, my attention almost always focuses on what my community members are doing wrong. When my attention is on what others are doing wrong, I personally am far less capable of being a positive addition to our world. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone, but it’s true for me.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for some time, you know I’m not a fan of the way our culture throws people away. We’ve cultivated landfills full of imperfect humans who have been labeled garbage by other imperfect humans. We believe in recycling only when it comes to plastic bottles. But throwing people away is equally toxic to our world, and is not a sustainable path to peace.
Because we have all hurt people, and because I believe most of the world genuinely does not want to, my faith in our healing is directly linked to my faith in our capacity to stop equating a person’s bad choice with who they are at their core. And I’m not talking about turning our heads away from the truth of the damage done, ya’ll. I’m saying to look it in the eye, to look closer, to look harder. As we do this we will learn more and more ways to start pulling the pain up by its roots, instead of constantly weeding and weeding the “bad people” out of the garden.
Each day, when I tune into my body, looking for any “I’m sorry’s” I may need to speak, I also keep this in mind— accountability is a beautiful and vital thing—but true healing is not about spending the the rest of your life trying to iron and iron a wrinkle from your past. Hang out in that spot too long and you burn the fabric of more than your own life. I witnessed this recently with a friend who made a choice that had really hurt her husband. Though he forgave her and wanted to move on, her struggle to overcome her shame was an injury to both of their lives. But apologies are best when they are not sorry-states, but action-based. So when leaning into accountability, know this—the most vital thing needed for change, is change. Allow yourself to change.
Love, Andrea 🖤