I hope you can forgive me...
That’s how my friend’s message began. Those six words are difficult to say, especially when you truly mean the request with all your heart. It takes strength and courage to ask for forgiveness. And in most cases, when you make that heartfelt request, you know that you may have been the cause of pain that was accumulated over a long period of time. That pain may come in the form of betrayal, neglect, carelessness, anger, or sadness. When you ask for forgiveness, you know that there’s a chance you won’t receive it. And maybe rightfully so. But nevertheless, when you realize that you’re truly sorry, you have a choice to make - you can keep your regrets to yourself, or you can begin with those six words spoken to me.
There are different levels of apologies. But for this short blog, let’s put them into two categories: 1. The standard “I’m sorry” which usually comes within moments or days of any wrongdoing (and is usually a “quick fix” to the problem). 2. Or, a heartfelt plea expressing remorse (which only comes after the passing of time and a lot of soul-searching). We all know when we need to say, “I’m sorry.” But asking for forgiveness isn’t always as clear. And it never comes easily.
If you live long enough, chances are that you will make some kind of human mistake that warrants asking for forgiveness. And it was during this moment, when I was asked to be the forgiver, that I recalled a time when I should have spoken those six words.
As a young girl, I always liked the idea of having a “best friend.” I’m not sure at what age we first learn that phrase, or even the concept of a “best friend.” But I knew that I always wanted one. The names and faces of my “best friends” changed many times during my adolescent years; from my neighborhood friend Patty (who played Barbies with me after school or on Saturdays); to my summer swim team friend Melissa (who I would ultimately fight with at the end of every summer, and then start fresh the following swim season by becoming “best friends” again). During my single digit and teen years, I wandered through my choices of best friends - usually picking them for all of the right reasons - popularity, popularity, and popularity. I joke with a bit of sarcasm because the process in which we choose friends at age 12 is usually different from when we reach an age of maturity. (That statement does not include those of you who have been friends since kindergarten). Truth be told, I had very nice friends growing up. But I don’t think I knew what it was like to have a true, lifelong-type friend until I went away to college. During my sophomore year at Ohio State, I met Lindsey. We were forced to become roommates. And to some people on the outside, we seemed like an unlikely pair to become friends. Lindsey had attitude and spunk. She was a Jersey girl with poker-straight hair that hung to her lower back. And she was certainly hip to all of the East Coast fashions. I was a shy Midwestern girl who was typically dressed is some conservative outfit from Ann Taylor. And my curly hair was usually pulled back in a ponytail. Lindsey didn’t take crap from anyone. Whereas, I allowed myself to get dumped on plenty of times. Lindsey was fearless. I was cautious. We seemed like opposites. But somehow, as friends, we complimented each other. She always defended me and taught me that good friends are always loyal, even when it’s not the popular position to take. I can still recall, like it was yesterday, a moment when Lindsey stood up for me when I didn’t have the guts to stand up for myself...
It was an overcast Saturday morning in Columbus, Ohio. But I woke up feeling excited about the day ahead. It was my sorority’s Spring Formal and I was taking a guy who I liked all school year. While we didn’t have the official “boyfriend-girlfriend” title, everyone in our circle knew that we were an item. He lived next door, which made daily visits and sightings easy. Apparently, the gloomy weather was foreshadowing of what was about to unfold. I was sitting with my friends in the TV-room of our house, eating breakfast and watching an old movie on cable. Lindsey was sitting next to me and we were mapping out our pre-party “primping” plans. The big bay windows on our house gave a view of the back door and parking lot of the house next door - the house where my college love interest lived. It’s amazing how quickly one’s mood can change. I went from having butterflies in my stomach as I imagined the fun night ahead, to staring out the window with a blank, pale face as I watched my date walk hand-in-hand with another woman to his car at 10 o’clock in the morning. I may have been a bit naive at 19-years old, but I wasn’t stupid. It was clear that he spent the night with another girl. And it crushed me inside. After using a few choice words about him, Lindsey turned to me and said, “What are you going to do? Are you still going to take him as your date tonight?” I was stunned and couldn’t wrap my brain around her question. I was just trying to make excuses about what we witnessed. Things like -- Maybe she’s just a friend? Maybe she just passed out on his couch? Maybe this isn’t what it looks like? And then my “maybes” transitioned into judgements (from 100 feet away) of the girl who shacked up with my date -- How could he like her better than me? I’m so much cuter! She looks so dumpy. She must be trashy. There’s no way he’s into that girl?! But as my brain played roller coaster with my emotions, my gut knew the truth. The guy I was into was clearly into others.
If that scenario happened to me today, I would have told the guy to piss off (which is exactly what Lindsey wanted me to do back then). But I was different at 19-years-old. I lacked the courage and strength to tell the popular boy, who I had a crush on, to get lost. Instead, I made the weak decision and I took him to my formal. I smiled and danced and never said a word about what I saw that morning (even though I was hurting inside). But not Lindsey. Not my best friend. She wasn’t going to let that guy get away with hurting my feelings without speaking her mind. I never heard their exchange with my own ears. But I can recount the version that she told me. At some point in the night (probably after a few Jack and cokes), Lindsey went up to my date and said, “Andrea is too nice to say anything to you. But we both saw you this morning and who you were with. You’re disgusting! And I don’t think you deserve to be here with her. If you ever hurt my friend again, I will make sure everyone knows what an a--hole you really are!” And with that, she smiled, turned, and walked away. My best friend in college was standing up for me when I chose not to stand up for myself. Lindsey taught me three valuable lessons through the events of that storyline:
1. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
2. Don’t be afraid to cut someone loose when they don’t seem to care about you.
3. Appreciate the honesty and loyalty of a good friend - and be the kind of friend who can emulate those qualities in return.
Years passed. More life drama occurred. But through it all, Lindsey remained my trusted friend. And then something happened along the way and my friend needed me to step up and be the kind of friend she was to me. I failed her. I can make plenty of excuses and offer reasons as to why I failed. But none of them matter. I was wrong. And it changed the friendship. After years passed, I realized that I owed her an apology. But I lacked both courage and guts to speak those six words... I hope you can forgive me.
Which brings me to present day and the recent message I received from an old friend. This friend was doing something that I never did when faced with the same situation. She was asking for forgiveness. It would be my choice whether or not to offer forgiveness. But I knew the strength it took to admit fault and speak the words face to face.
Have you done something to hurt someone you care about? Consider this. Sometime, when the time is right, you may need to be brave enough (with no expectations) to say these six words... I hope you can forgive me.