I learned something about apologies today.
I had grabbed A. Peevie's thumb playfully--but I accidentally hurt him, and he was mad at me. "I'm sorry, A. Peevie," I said. "I didn't mean to hurt you." He was still mad, and not ready to forgive.
"You really, really hurt me," he said, cradling his injured thumb in his other hand.
"I know," I said, and again: "I'm really sorry. I wasn't gentle enough." He stared out the window, frowning. I gave it another try, even though by this time I wanted to tell him to get over it, it wasn't that bad.
"A. Peevie," I said, "I'm sorry I hurt your thumb. I didn't mean to do that." No answer. More frowning. I gave up.
Several minutes later, I glanced back at him to see if he was ready to forgive and move on. He still looked grumpy and unforgiving. "I've already apologized three times," I thought to myself. "Geez. He really needs to get his Jesus on, forgive me, and get over it."
A song came on the radio, and I saw my opportunity to try to make peace one more time. "A.," I said, "Who sings this song?"
"Green Day," he said in a smallish voice, like he was on the verge of liking me again; and that's when I realized several things about apologies:
1. It's wrong-headed to keep track of how many times you've said "I'm sorry" for the same injury.
2. You may have to keep on saying "I'm sorry" until the person you've hurt is ready to hear it.
3. To say "I'm sorry" once or twice or even several times, and then to unilaterally decide that you've apologized enough, is essentially the same as telling the other person how to feel--which Green Room readers will know is Just. Not. Right. The unspoken message is, "You should not feel hurt any more; get over it." It is not your prerogative to tell another person how to feel.
So I apologized again. "A. Peevie," I said, "I really am sorry that I hurt you."
He smiled at me with gentle forgiveness on his face. "It's OK, Mom," he said. "I forgive you."