Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, sorry isn’t good enough,” or “Say sorry like you mean it?” There comes a time when the one seeking the apology (the presumed victim) may be unwilling or unready to truly accept it, due to deep hurt or perceived harm. Most of us struggle with letting go of our emotional baggage, redefining ourselves after trial and really moving on.
Why is that? Well, imagine your memories are a giant blank canvas, your feelings are its frame and your vulnerabilities are the paintbrush. At first, we come into the world open to experiences and learning, presented as a palette of colors. We innocently hand over the paintbrush without hesitation, seeking shapes, lines and emotions from our family and friends. Inevitably, the world presents us with someone who, possibly through their own past hurts or unintended ignorance, paints with a color that leaves a mark we don’t like to see . . . a swipe across the canvas that unsettles us. So, we paint over it and start anew.
These phases come and go, based on who we allow to have our paintbrush and how much freedom we give them with the palette. Then, the sudden and less controllable things happen: heartbreak, slander and disappointment. We paint over these too, praying for a fresh start; yet, the color sometimes seeps through and tints our present. Worst of all, abuses, physical ailments and grief may not even ask for the paintbrush—they may burn, distress or tear the canvas. We all feel the heat, the harm and the hurt. We carry them, sometimes in invisible ink or buried under layers of cloaking paint, that bubble back to visibility in the revealing light of life.
Sorry, by its very nature, is a tricky thing. However, I believe wholeheartedly that the better statement to seek and embrace is, “I forgive you.” Sorry keeps all the power with the person or thing you believe injured you. It is asking for permission from another for you to heal. While a necessary and appropriate gesture, sorry only works if you are willing to accept it.
For instance, I saw this piece by Tony Albert on display for an Indigenous Australia exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Many of the artists featured had similar sentiments addressing the official apology for the tremendous wrongs done to their people, but unwilling to believe or truly stomach the “sorry.” Some, it was evident, were voicing their hurts in a vindictive and graphic manner. Others were simply waiting for real, sustainable change. It’s a tough road for all.
Here is the question: how long should a hurt, an oppression, a wrong or a weight live on? I’m serious. This is a provocative question, considering the racial, social, political and religious lines we have in the world. Is it really right to pass anger, prejudice and hate down to the next generation? These are learned beliefs not inherent ones. None of us can claim we want equal, fair or balanced treatment if we aren’t living those things with full love, forgiveness and openness.
Take this work, by Bindi Cole from GOMA as a hopeful and moving example.
It was the only piece I saw in the exhibit that was focused on the most powerfully liberating emotion: forgiveness. The video brought me to tears, seeing the apparent struggle to let go within each soul over repeating the simple phrase, “I forgive you.”
I LOVE this quote by Bindi Cole:
I had to go through a process of healing
and a huge part of that healing was around forgiveness . . .
As I forgave I was able to take my power back.
Imagine the paintbrushes you need to reclaim, think of the priceless forgiveness you can “give” yourself by restoring the canvas (like washing away old watercolors) and think of the liberation you can empower the next generation with by merely being an example of hope’s healing power over hate. I challenge you, myself and the world.