Reconciliation is crucial for restoring trust after violence has been done between people. An apology is a good first step, as long as acknowledgement of the harm done is part of it, and an honest vow to try not to do it again. I know that what I did was bad, I know how much it hurt you, how much it would have hurt me, I am sorry I hurt you, I will try hard not to do it again. Hard, hard words for anyone to utter.
It takes humility and self-confidence to speak that way to someone we’ve been unfair to, and a strong desire to mend torn feelings and have an ongoing relationship. It takes resolve to keep a promise to try not to repeat the harm, and sensitivity to the other person’s expression of discomfort when you start doing it. The most important single part, after the apology is accepted, is to be vigilant against repeating the harmful behavior. Without that last step the apology is as empty as an abuser’s protestations of love.
A soothing apology comes from a real desire to make peace, to abandon all the quick, limitless rationales that are the human genius, the imagined scenarios where what we did was not really so bad, where the unforgiving asshole waiting for our demanded apology is actually the aggressor, the self-righteous fuck. The sufficiency of my apology, which I gave without condition or eye roll, is now under dispute! Fuck him! Fuck that fucking prig!
I am a prig. I had a friend weaponize a casual observation I made during a conversation. My weaponized remark was shoved up the spouse’s ass at a therapy session, with explosive results. The spouse contacted me in utter panic, showed up eye lid twitching, informed me that either through malice or stupidity I had rendered their marriage untenable. My words, “oh, that makes more sense, I was left with some questions after X’s story” adduced as proof that X was a chronic liar, made me responsible for the destruction of a long marriage. Neither spouse was sure they could still be friends with someone like me. That would depend on how convincingly I recanted the awful thing I had said. Their therapist had recommended I be confronted, and so I was.
We live in a world where fucked up shit happens continually. Nothing personal, really, except in a case like this, where there is an element of choice in how this stark, allegedly vicious crime by an old friend is framed and prosecuted.
So I brought what I thought was logic to bear. Y told me a story over the course of five minutes, relating in detail events involving X, Y and Z that had happened a few months earlier. X had told me the same story right after it happened, in about thirty seconds, and hating Z, I had zero follow-up questions about it, though the story made little sense to me at the time. X had concluded his short telling with the words “I probably shouldn’t have told you this…”. Y’s longer version made much more sense than X’s short one. I said so.
That was the crime I was on trial for. My friendship with X and Y was at stake. I had to remember very clearly exactly what I’d said weeks ago when I compared one story to the other version I’d heard several months earlier.
I told my friend, at one point, if I maliciously confirmed your spouse’s opinion that you are a chronic liar, neither of you should be friends with me. A friend waiting for a moment of weakness to strike a painful blow is not a friend. If you don’t believe my comment was an honest reaction to a retold story that made more sense than the original version, there’s nothing more to be done here.
Of course, it turned out there were some other old wounds that needed to be pried open and poked into, other accusations against my character that I needed to make an accounting for. I did the best I could, seeing my old friend in obvious pain, without realizing how insane what I was being put through was. That didn’t sink in until later. In the meantime X reported that things were better with Y after the confrontation with me.
I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. These people are clearly nuts. What kind of example is this insane trap they put you in? It is the insane trap of two desperate, drowning people. What kind of example is it?
It is no more insane that a lot of wars. Kill them over there so they don’t kill us here, freedom on the march, manifest destiny, Remember the Alamo, the Gulf of Tonkin, a new Hitler, a new Hitler, a modern-day Hitler. We are not known for not being insane when we are whipped into a rage or goaded by terror. My friend X in the car was mostly insane when he confronted me about all the malice he imagined I had toward him. The confrontation was no more insane than many things in the news every day. Of course, we have a fairly insane person in charge of a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, so there’s that.
I wrote all about this as it was unfolding and didn’t intend to go so far into the details this time. I am musing on it today because X’s mother has called me several times lately, looking for advice nobody can possibly come up with in the quantity she needs. I’ve done my best to help her figure out the lay of some very troubling land. X is very close to mom, though apparently has revealed nothing about our falling out. X’s mom asked me to keep our conversation secret, as is their way, so I have already violated that trust, in a technical sense. Oh, well.
To conclude, then. During the last of the ten days when our religion requires us to approach anyone we have wronged and make amends, if possible, X sits in the shul praying with the rabbi of the congregation that awarded Donald Trump’s business partner, a convicted felon (grievous assault with a deadly weapon among other, more white collar felonies where he got immunity for giving evidence against his criminal colleagues) its Man of the Year award twice in recent years.
They pray, for a better world, for more understanding, for forgiveness, for prosperity. I begrudge them nothing. But, truth, those prayers are not the same as taking an honest inventory of our deeds and seeking actual reconciliation, by our actions, with people we have recently hurt.
In the end, we choose to hear a friend who is in pain or to keep fighting for some kind of imagined supremacy in an ongoing war we have no insight into. The endless, unreasoned war is some fucked up shit, my friend. X is no doubt thinking the same thing as his rabbi asks the congregation, including their generous Man of the Year, to please rise, please be seated, please rise.