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Are Apologies Worth Waiting For?

The wait might not be worth the reward.

We want apologies.

We want whoever harmed us to say, Wounded one, I never should have called you Chubster or let you sob as I stroked the postman or forgotten your existence for 25 years.

We want them to confess their calculated and casual cruelties, to crawl bare-kneed over sharp gravel after sleepless nights, skirling regret through sun-split lips.

Or even just say sorry once.

We'd call it justice.

This is wired into human reasoning: Wrongdoers must be punished because punishment is pain suffered when they wonder, Do I deserve this?

Because I bullied the blind girl? Spat into the office coffeepot? Published nude pictures of my ex?

Oh yes.

We want our harmers to awaken and attempt amends. Real ones, not like when our ancestors gave burnt offerings to ostensibly angry gods: See how sorry I am for stealing Ragnar's corn? Remove this buboe, please.

S. Rufus
Source: S. Rufus

We think pain hones the inner eye, cleansing its lens, unclouding that curlicued circuitry by which actions have consequences. OMG, I am an ass.

If you ever receive amends, I love your luck. But bet on nothing. Because hope can crush us.

Nature is unfair. Gazelles and dragonflies could tell you: Cheaters prosper. Villains often win.

Forgiveness is a human affectation. Sought or granted. A conceit. Lions would laugh.

Yet we expect apologies. We wait, imagining anguished words waiting beyond far horizons like hazy oases where at long last our parched hearts can come unclenched.

We tell ourselves our healing paths will smooth out into fruit punch-fountained superhighways if So-and-so would just say I have no right to call myself a dad, or, How can I ever repay you?

Such hope sustains our dependence on our harmers, placing our potential happiness and health into those same hands that slammed doors on us and touched us too little or much.

Hoping smug culprits will confess expands their crimes and their control, by which we spin suspended while awaiting their permission to exist.

We should want nothing from them anymore.

Awaiting proof of their remorse means putting parts of us on hold until it comes. Parts that might otherwise build or at least imagine sparkling galleons whose skippers we are.

Wish as we will, our harmers might never apologize. Because some believe themselves blameless. Or think us unworthy of amends. Some would ask: THAT? But it was nothing. You had fun.

Some might never apologize because shame seals their lips. Or, as one study suggests, because the act of apology makes one seem feeble and inept. They might never apologize because they have an image to maintain, which matters more to them than honesty or the pale flicker of forgiveness.

Not that we ever need grant that grace. Sometimes we seek apologies just to reject them. Payback time.

Is this childish? Trauma arrests development.

We fantasize that making them come crawling back, hearing their blithe or callous voices crack, will even the score. Yet one study suggests that apologies won are disappointing.

Harm cannot be quantified as electrons and apples are, but at some point, any apology will almost certainly seem too little, too late. You made me hate my face and this is all I get?!

Our harmers might never apologize because they do not understand, because no one ever apologized to them. Unconfessed, unrepented harm can spread like social syphilis: silently, stealthily, asymptomatically at first. Surely in this world or the next, some hurt souls await my amends.

Our harmers might never apologize because we cannot find them. Or because biology or ennui blocks their memories. Or because they have died.

And what if they apologize for the wrong crimes? What if we seethe, No no no no, I minded going hungry less than I minded your always being high.

And they might lie. Again. Still. For the millionth time.

A history of chicanery inclines someone to say sorry vacantly, with words worth less than the soundwaves that freight them or the nanomeasure of exertion by which they are typed. Unfelt apologies are the ultimate offense, transparent as spider blood and often "ultimate" in both its meanings: worst and last. Unfelt apologies are cheap tricks torching tattered trust, sometimes uttered on deathbeds because hey, maybe some heaven-guardian can hear.

To stop seeking apologies feels like surrender, like letting scofflaws stroll free. Relinquishing that craving feels as weak as waiting. But could we view freedom-from-them, freedom from expecting anything from them, as victory?

Can we imagine, instead, other gifts? Can we desire, instead, what we can gain without their words? Paintbrushes, say. Or pony-rides.

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