Religion & Beliefs

‘Sorry’ Seems to Be the Hardest Word

"It’s always easier to apologize than to ask permission." – Grace Hopper I love the High Holidays, and have since I started practicing Judaism. Sure, I always grumble and moan about making it through a whole day of fasting on … Read More

By / September 24, 2009

"It’s always easier to apologize than to ask permission." – Grace Hopper

I love the High Holidays, and have since I started practicing Judaism. Sure, I always grumble and moan about making it through a whole day of fasting on Yom Kippur, but I find great joy and strength in the Days of Awe. Not coincidentally, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the High Holidays are always around my birthday (which is today, FYI). Birthdays are a natural time of year for reflection, so tying that in with the Jewish calendar is a beautiful way to gather my thoughts and set new priorities for the year to come.

One hallmark of the Days of Awe is, of course, atonement. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to apologize via email – that is how we communicate now, and as long as the intention is genuine, I don’t think it is a big deal what form the apology comes in. That said, a few years ago I received an apology via email that I refused to accept. Here’s the quick and dirty story behind said apology: a few years ago, I dated a man we’ll call "Lior." Although Lior and I only dated for a few months, we’d known each other for a long time beforehand and had many mutual friends. That was why I found it particularly surprising when Lior left a message on my voicemail one afternoon breaking up with me. Afterward, I found out a few less-than-savory details about his extracurricular activities that effectively ruined any residual goodwill I had toward him. Fast forward a couple of months, and it was almost Yom Kippur. One day, I saw an email from Lior in my inbox. It was the first time I’d had any contact with him since the aforementioned voicemail. Dear Lilit, it read. Voicemail was kind of shitty, huh? Sorry about everything. Hope you’re doing OK. Happy holidays. That was it, except for his name at the end.

That was it. Even though I’d had several months to move on, get over my anger, and meet someone else, this "apology" email made me upset all over again. Yes, the email may have contained the word "sorry," but there wasn’t a real apology in there. For one thing, an apology should include the thing you’re apologizing for, and while he did manage to refer to voicemail, a sentence like "Sorry that I broke up with you on your voicemail" would have been more specific. If he was going to say "sorry for everything" it could have been useful to clarify exactly what "everything" entailed. Look, I didn’t expect the guy to fall at my feet begging my forgiveness or whip himself with a cat-o-nine-tails or anything. But his apology wouldn’t have counted in Alcoholics Anonymous, and it didn’t count with me. Can it be legitimate atonement when it doesn’t even mention the thing you’re atoning for? Are you better off not saying anything than saying something half-heartedly? The rule is that if someone apologizes three times, even if the other party refuses to accept, that the apologizer is considered to have atoned. To be honest, the reason I didn’t accept Lior’s apology is because I thought he owed me something more. Yeah, dumping someone on their voicemail is lame. But what I was truly hurt about is that he’d behave so callously to not only to a girl he’d been dating, but to a girl who had been his friend. I was pissed that he would treat any friend that way, and I was upset about how easily he’d been able to cast me aside. The truth is, Lior did try to say he was sorry, even if he didn’t use the words I thought he should have. After our breakup, as during our relationship, we were having trouble communicating with each other. But there’s no right way to apologize, and there’s no perfect way to heal. So, I accept Lior’s apology, and I hope he’ll forgive me for not accepting it sooner.