sorry is just a word

June 15, 2009

so i’m not entirely ready to link this all back to my own life in great detail, even though the only people who read this blog are my friends and have already heard all about it (ad nauseum, i would think, by this point).

but anyway, today on “deconstruction junction,” i bring you “god may forgive you” by iris dement (be warned, her voice is a love/hate thing. you might want to just read the lyrics):

You say that you’re born again
cleansed of your former sins
You want me to say “I forgive and forget”
But you’ve done too much to me
Don’t you be touching me,
go back and touch all those women you’ve made

’cause God may forgive you, but I won’t
Yes, Jesus loves you, but I don’t
They don’t have to live with you and neither do I
You say that you’re born again, well so am I
God may forgive you, but I won’t
and I won’t even try

Well, the kids had to cry for you
I had to try to do
things that the Dad should do
since you’ve been gone
Well, you really let us down
You may be Heaven ‘bound
but you’ve left one hell of a mess here at home


and I won’t even try

so partly i like this song because i’m a fan of anger and bitterness in music (perhaps one day i shall deconstruct “no children” by the mountain goats, my favorite upbeat-but-ragingly-bitter song), and the way she sings this song is just utterly ruthless. and partly i identify with it. but also, it sort of taps into things that i think about sometimes, about the nature of forgiveness and repentance. 

so i saw atonement when it first came out in theaters, because i had really liked the new pride and prejudice and the previews seemed to indicate this would be a sweeping historical love story with beautiful cinematography and i like that kind of shit (i hadn’t read the book; i still haven’t, although i did buy it and add it to my pile of unread books). turns out…not so much. i spent most of the movie being confused, and not entirely sure i liked what i was seeing. but then there’s the final part, with vanessa redgrave as an older, dying briony, and suddenly i realized a) why it’s called atonement; and b) the real point of the story.

i spent several days afterward ruminating on the movie, and particularly the idea that there are things in this life that you do–actions you take, or mistakes you make, or whatever–that have consequences that alter the course of your life forever. sometimes they also alter the courses of other people’s lives. and sometimes these consequences are horrific. and no matter how bad you feel, no matter how much you come to see the error of your ways, you can never fix it. you can never go back and undo the damage you have wrought. you just have to live with it.

so then the question arises: if you’ve done something that cannot be made up for, how do you go about repairing the damaged relationship? what do you do when apologizing isn’t enough? do you simply accept that this is something that is forever broken and fade into the woodwork, or do you find some method of atonement? and when have you atoned enough? 

the other side of this, of course, is forgiveness. to retreat once again to pop culture (because that is apparently my only source of introspective catalysts), i went through a raging friday night lights phase earlier this spring, and at one point in the first season, one of the characters is advising another and says “forgiveness is never a weakness.” which stuck with me, probably because i was already contemplating the nature of forgiveness and my own life. so i gotta say, that’s a nice sentiment and all, and it’s certainly christian (which i am not, exactly, but it’s hard to fully separate from the teachings of your childhood), but i don’t think it’s exactly true. isn’t there a limit to how much forgiveness you can extend to a person, a point where they have abused your goodwill for the final time? or am i confusing forgiving with forgetting? is it truly possible to forgive someone for what they have done to you while wanting nothing more to do with them? 

i am a fairly forgiving person. too forgiving, at times. but there are certain things even i can’t get past, ways in which i was hurt that i can’t get over. it’s one thing to make peace with your past, to try to let go and move on, and i’ve managed that with a couple of the bigger hurts in my life. but that process generally hasn’t ended with me being anything but civil with the people involved; i’m not interested in being friends anymore. and with the really big things, i’m not sure i can even manage that, let alone real forgiveness. i might be able to manage a polite and distant détente, but the last thing i want is some sort of relationship with someone who hurt me so badly before. hell, i don’t even want attempts at making amends. i just want it left alone. and maybe that’s a failing on my part, but i guess it’s something i’ll just have to live with. and honestly, i’m pretty okay with that.



  1. “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”
    — Maya Angelou (Maya Angelou: Poems)
    All I am saying is that you may, some day, perhaps when you are a parent yourself, you may feel different about the nature and scope of forgiveness, but how you feel today is the only way you can feel in light of what you know (cleary eloquence eludes me today). Yes, it’s not the word “sorry” that matters, it’s the actions to back it up, perhaps that too is yet to come, and perhaps then, you will be able to forgive more. Atonement is a two-way street and how much is enough partially depends on you. And I gotta tell you, with family, forgiveness, even half-assed and superficial is just something you have to try. Then, again, this coming from a perpetual people-pleaser. The result is far from perfect, and yet it comforts me to know that it may, someday, get better. I don’t make any sense, maybe will revisit issue in person 🙂

    • i think part of what i’m struggling with here is that repentance and forgiveness are built into our social contract. you fuck up, you apologize, the other person forgives you, and then all is mended. it’s when one person won’t play his or her role that problems arise. it’s like how sometimes when you’re really angry with someone you want them to fuck up or get angry back so that you have an excuse to just keep on being angry.

      and so sometimes i feel like in being the one who won’t accept the apology, i am the one who is breaking the contract. i’m the bad guy now, the one who won’t be reasonable and behave in the expected way. it’s not that anyone has said as much to me, but i feel like that’s the role i’m being pushed into. i mean, let’s face it, the social contract doesn’t cover everything and i don’t have to participate, but we’re conditioned by society to act a certain way, and when we don’t, we feel guilty.

      either that, or i am projecting my own issues onto a societal framework. it’s a toss up, really.

  2. well, in that context, repentance and forgiveness are simply labels for how we think this process should work out, what i mean is the words don’t stand for the results we envision. in reality, forgiveness is only for your benefit, it shouldn’t have anything to do with societal perceptions, as is repentance – because performance is subjective. That is, you are the only one who trully knows whether you have forgiven, and it is impossible to know whether the other side has trully repented either. where does this leave us??? i guess the societal contract envisions an impossible result and is therefore void, each party for herself.

  3. […] box concerning my behavior in re: my parents and their relationship (previous posts on the subject here and here). this letter was very bad; i’m posting it below (sadly, to do all the necessary […]

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