Cruel Intentions?

How to say you're sorry and really mean it.

Getty Images
Getty Images

I know a woman who, a few years ago, suffered a miscarriage about halfway through her pregnancy. A week or so after the event, she telephoned me in tears, sobbing so hard it took five full minutes to calm her down. It wasn’t just the miscarriage, she said, but the terrible things people were saying to her when they found out. One friend met her for lunch at some trendy downtown restaurant and after going on and on about her latest boyfriend had finally noticed the stricken look upon the grieving woman’s face. “You’re not still upset about it, are you?” the friend had asked. “I mean, there was probably something wrong with it, anyway.”

I’ve been remembering that phone call recently because here we are again as the Clinton Comedy of Error rolls on; another week in which to wonder, “What the hell did he/she mean by that? Did she mean what she said or something else? Does it matter? Is it intention that counts or the effect that registers? Shall we be judged by what’s in our heart of hearts, or what comes sluicing from our mouths?”

Even as she sobbed into the telephone, my friend rose to her friend’s defense. “I knew she meant well.” she said. “She didn’t intend to hurt me.”

“I’m sure she didn’t.” I said. But, in fact, what I thought was: “Screw that.” Some of the things people said to me when news of my divorce emerged were so insensitive as to be laughable. Now, anyway.

My neighbor: “Wow! I didn’t even know you guys were having trouble!”

My child’s teacher: “Did you even think of counseling?” And, “Have you thought about what this means for the kids?”

A friend: “Wow, that’s the third one I’ve heard of this month! It’s like a disease around here. I hope it’s not contagious!”

The proper responses to these statements, unavailable to me at the time because of a more pressing need to focus all my emotional energy on not dissolving into a puddle and trickling away, are as follows: