The phone rings at my work desk. My dear friend wails through the airwaves. Her anguish is palpable because her sister refuses to speak with her, sends back all letters of apology unopened, and walks with her head down if she spies her sibling in her vicinity. Since the funeral of my beloved brother-in-law six years ago, my own sister’s son hasn’t uttered word one to his mother or anyone else in our family. The kicker: neither my girlfriend nor my sister really understands the root cause of the painful rift. Misunderstandings cropped up. Mountains erupted from molehills. Things fell apart leaving behind in the ruins years of trust and love, fond memories and tender care.
So I asked my friend, “Can’t you just call a take-back?”
“A take-back. You know, when you were little and you fought with your sister, you called a take-back.” She didn’t know. I went on to explain the basic principle. If you hurt someone’s feelings or ate the rose on their slice of birthday cake when they weren’t looking, you called a take-back—basically, I’m sorry; I wish I hadn’t done it. You were only permitted an agreed upon number of take-backs before you had to do a do-over. This do-over was not the same as a do-over when you messed up at Hopscotch and wanted another try, but involved letting the injured party eat your rose or say something equally unkind to you. My friend did not think take-backs and do-overs would work with her sister.
But I disagree. I believe that despite our efforts not to screw up, we flesh and blood humans get things wrong. We say unkind, insensitive things to the people we love most in the world. We lie, cheat, and betray. So yell at us. Give us a piece of your mind. But you are not allowed not to accept our apology. You are not allowed not to agree to disagree with us. You are not allowed to snub, shun, or disown us. You must accept all take-backs and do-overs and come to the table and do the hard work of repair. You must swallow your pride and open your arms and soften your heart before it’s too late. If someone says they are sorry, you must say sorry back. Go ahead and hold your breath and kick and scream until we understand your side of things, but forgive us.
I believe forgiveness is an inalienable human right. When you accept the apology of another, though you have been wronged, you champion the nobility and grace buried at the heart of all civilization, you foster peace and goodwill—you give what you most hunger to get.
So I told my friend to call a general take-back for all her past transgressions, and if her sister still didn’t accept her apology, then tell her she can do a do-over and to quit being such a doo-doo head.
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