Cruel Intentions?

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

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To my neighbor: “Didn’t you get the newsletter?”

To my child’s teacher: “Nah. I saw those socks on the floor and thought: to heck with this!” And, “Kids? Do we have kids?”

To a friend: “Me too. Because then you’d be a rude, insensitive jerk and divorced. Bad combination all around.”

I believe that deep down most people are well-intentioned. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt, in turning the other cheek. I believe the Hillary supporters foaming at the mouth when they say their candidate was not wishing aloud for the most horrible of possibilities or even suggesting that it might occur.

I also believe that when you say something terrible, something that wounds a person, even unintentionally, you apologize. No ifs, ands or buts, no wobbling, no non-apology apologies; No “Well-I-was-just-being-honest” bullshit. My kids learned that in preschool, but I know far too many adults who can’t seem to get it through their heads.

People want to help. They want to comfort and soothe; they want to be useful. But most of all they do not want to sit in the same room as pain. Sitting next to pain is painful. Sitting next to pain brings up all those uncomfortable feelings of helplessness and bewilderment and dissatisfaction in our own lives. Sitting next to pain reminds us that no one gets out unscathed.

Who the heck wants to be reminded of that? Isn’t it better to just say something and make it all go away? But of course we can’t. Since the miscarriage incident, I have tried, when confronted with pain both small and overwhelming, to speak just three sentences. I try to say them over and over, varying the tone and timber of my voice, but never the message. I try mightily to refrain from analyzing the situation or suggesting the person is better off or that the pain is part of God’s master plan. I especially, especially, especially try to refrain from giving advice.

Instead, I say this and only this: That sucks. I’m sorry. What can I do to help?

That’s it. That’s the only thing I try to say. Broken heart or lost baby. Separation or divorce. Home lost to hurricane or flood. Fender bender. Job termination. Death of a parent you have not seen in 20 years.

That sucks. I am so, so sorry. What can I do?