I pulled the large manilla envelope out of the mailbox and looked at the return address. A wave of heat washed over me, my heart beat faster, and those familiar anxious moths in my stomach flapped their wings. I knew I’d have to face it, and him, and soon, I just wasn’t prepared for that today.
A part of my extended family was in a messy conflict. One disgruntled Uncle requesting church discipline for an Aunt (his deceased wife’s sister) because she would leave church any time he preached. That Aunt then, needing to defend her behaviour, opened the closet door to ugly family skeleton’s (and rightly so). Since her defense was serious accusations against my Uncle the local church deferred to the next higher authority to deal with the conflict. I could not let my Aunt fight alone and chose to share my personal experience with this Uncle, confirming what my Aunt was saying against him. My cousin, the one who sent the letter, stood with her as well and we were all to meet and share our stories in a church “court” of sorts. Already filled with dread and fear my anxiety was compounded by knowing I would also have to be with him.
The letter arrived a few days before “court”. With shaking fingers I tore a corner of the flap that sealed the envelope, inserted my finger inside the hole, and slid it across the top. I pulled out a stack of papers. “Dear Kim,” I read, “I don’t know if you remember or not….” I stopped reading. I knew exactly what he was referring to. My mind opened and I drifted back over twenty-five years to one of my earliest memories, branded on my soul. “Yes,” I thought, “I remember. I can’t ever forget.” The heat in my body moved more directly to my chest and burned where the brand left it’s scar. The stomach moths more frenzied tried to find escape. He continued by sharing what happened between us. I shook my head trying to dislodge the memory.
The letter continued. “I take complete responsibility. It was not your fault. You are not to blame. I was wrong, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Everything around me faded, my focus on the words “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” Tears formed and rolled down my cheeks. The words blurred as I read them again, ” . .. It’s not your fault…. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
I knew he meant it.
The impact of his words filled my head, relief and peace moved down my neck, my chest began to cool as the wave flowed toward my stomach. The moths stilled. The remorse and regret he felt began a repair to the branding that only he could do. My eyes moved to his words, “please forgive me.” I took a deep breath, healing penetrated deeper, “yes, I forgive you,” I whispered. My anxiety over seeing him flitted away as moths escaped my stomach.
I wish I could articulate what it was like to see him several days later. The damage he caused no longer separated us. His apology built a bridge. He stood on his end and I on the other, and with forgiveness we crossed into reconciliation and the beginnings of repair to a broken relationship. We were at peace with each other. We were free.
In “court” that day he sat beside me and held my hand as I told a story of branding done by another.
I’m amazed at the power of an apology. A true apology. A real apology. One where the offender has remorse and grieves over his actions, over what he took and what I lost. One where he takes total responsibility, without excuse, and feels regret, knowing he can never give it back. I marvel at how with that kind of apology, forgiveness comes naturally and reconciliation with it. That my once-offender, one whom I avoided, shyed away from in shame for twenty-five years became my friend, my courage, and in a way, my defender. But that is a story for another day.