Friday, March 30, 2012

Crossing Paths: The Apology

I recently received an apology that touched my heart. It was prompted by a small, deliberate act that occurred many years ago that placed a strain on a relationship with a dear friend.

When a person apologizes for an act they’ve purposely committed, or words they’ve thrown out to hurt you or discredit your character, how easy is it for you to accept the apology and forgive? Does the forgiveness on your part depend on the delivery and/or the deliverer? And what about the infraction itself? Is an intentional violation against you even forgivable? How about the duration of time between the act and the apology? Does that hold any bearing on your ability to forgive, forget and move on?

In the New Testament of the King James Version of the Bible, the prophet James warns ‘that the size of the tongue is no measure of the power it wields. Just as the tiniest of sparks can ignite a great forest fire, the smallest of words, unwisely spoken, can cause immeasurable harm.’ James 3:5-6.

A co-worker was unfortunately introduced to, and began to heavily abuse drugs. She was a struggling mother of two, and although I was not aware of this at the time, she had begun to borrow money heavily and became stigmatized as a result of not paying people back.

I saw her at the bus stop one day, and stopped to offer her a ride. When she told me where she was headed, I told her that her destination was on the way to where I was headed; to a good friends’ house to drop something off. Instead of doubling back, I’d make a brief stop, I explained, and then we’d be on our way.

We stopped, she got out with me, and I introduced her to my friend. We stayed just
a few minutes, and then I took her where she needed to go. A few weeks went by and I received a call from my friend. She asked if I were busy, and said she needed to talk to me. I listened as she said the woman I’d brought over a few weeks back had come by her house and told her she needed to talk.

She thought it was odd, since she didn’t really know her, but she allowed her to come in. The coworker sat down and began to tell her lies that she’d said that I’d said about her. She told her I had been putting all her ‘business in the street’ at work. Then she said, ‘Since I gave you that information, can I have 20.00?’

I listened over the phone, angry and saddened, feeling hurt and used. The tragedy of the lie was that she’d told her some things that she’d observed from the visit that day with me, and most likely she found herself jealous of her lovely home and stylish character and then she’d passed off the lies as if I’d said them.

My friend didn’t know what to believe. The lies were ugly character assassinations; something one could assume, that she was pretentious and stuck up. But because they came from someone I appeared to know, she actually thought I’d been talking about her, and our friendship became strained for several years.

The co-worker that I’d picked up on the bus stop later on was terminated for an unrelated cause, and after that she temporarily lost her children to the foster care system because of her inability to properly care for them. More of an acquaintance, I lost track of her after I heard this and figured she and her lies were gone from my life.

Now fast forward ten years later.

My friend and I were back on good terms again, and she invited me to a church service at her home church. I was enjoying the service, and the pastor had just finished his sermon, when I received a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was my former coworker.

She said softly, “Can I talk to you after the service?” My mind jumped immediately back to the incident ten years before. I looked at my friend sitting next to me and she simply smiled without saying a word.

After the benediction, the woman followed me outside. She said, “Years ago, I told a lie on you to get some money for drugs. After I got my life together, I began to pray that our paths would cross so that I could apologize to you. I think about what I did so many years ago, and it always troubled my heart. I’m so sorry for what I did, and I’m asking your forgiveness.”

I was stunned. I don’t think I’d ever received an apology so heartfelt, and what I knew to be so sincere. I gave her a hug in acknowledgement. “I have peace now,” she said. And she simply walked away.

The amazing timing and location of ‘the apology’ was something I couldn’t make up. My friend had spontaneously invited me that same morning; and she did acknowledge later that she’d seen her several times at the church.

After all, it had been ten years since the ‘infraction.’ Ten years had passed since she’d tarnished my name, and placed a valuable friendship in jeopardy. But I realized that day that an apology is timeless. It can be ten hours, ten days or ten years from the point of violation. But if you feel it is sincere, time can very likely heal the wound, and open up your heart to forgive with a smile.

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