What do you do after you say you are sorry? That is the question my parish priest posed to the children at Mass this Sunday. His point was that often saying we are sorry is not enough. We also must do something to make up for the wrong we have caused. We must do our best to make amends.
Saying that we are sorry when we have wronged someone is important. It is one of those things parents tell children to do from their earliest ages. By way of example, one toddler smacks another over the head with their toy of choice. In most cases, the toy is taken away or given to the other child, and then the offending child is then instructed to say “I’m sorry.” Is the child actually sorry? Probably not. Feeling true contrition is something that comes with time. Soon enough, however, the child will experience it and will know what to do when he or she has hurt someone else. It is an important life lesson.
As adults, we say that we are sorry often. I said it myself a few minutes ago when I accidentally stepped on my dog’s tail. I hadn’t realized that she had positioned herself under my legs until I moved my foot. We brush up against someone in the supermarket. We say we are sorry. We realize that we interrupted someone. We say we are sorry. These are the times when it is easy to say that we are sorry. We say it. The other person acknowledges it, and life moves on.
There are times, though, when it is much harder to say that we are sorry – the times when we have intentionally wronged someone and must begin the process of reconciliation. Those are also the times when we must make amends. We must try to do something to make up for the hurt we have caused. This is the much harder task. Sometimes it is not even possible. Still, we must make the effort.
In Richard Paul Evan’s story “The Christmas List,” James Kier is a modern day Scrooge. The man has ruined several lives through his selfishness and business dealings. After his obituary is published erroneously, he gets to read the online comments – most of which are anything but good. People are happy he is dead and Kier has the opportunity to face the reality of his life. He decides to do something about his legacy, and tries to make amends with the people he has hurt. He doesn’t think it will be easy, but he has no idea how truly hard it will be. The first person he reaches out to won’t even let him get a word in. Instead, he breaks Kier’s nose and sticks his dogs on him.
In time, he is able to make some things right. For some people, however, it is simply too late. Witness the response of an older woman whom he had caused great financial loss. She does forgive him. In fact, she states that she forgave him long before. Unfortunately, paying back the monetary damages will do little good. “So you see, Mr. Kier, you can’t make amends. You can’t give me back my land. You can’t give me back my health. You can’t give me back my husband and you can’t give me back my dreams. You certainly can’t give me back my innocence.” Those truthful words cause him more pain than his broken nose. In the end, he decides to use the money he owed her to establish a scholarship in her name.
Saying we are sorry is important. Realizing that our wrongdoing has consequences for others is even more important. When we have caused someone harm, we must do what we can to make it right. It may not always be possible, but we need to make our best effort.
Copyright 2010 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur