In the Orthodox calendar, the 13th of March is the day of Forgiveness. March 14 is when our Lent begins. What we are meant to do is self-explanatory: present ourselves to the people we love and ask forgiveness for any grief we might have given them throughout the year.
When I was little, this particular practice made me really uncomfortable (when it happened) because I felt weak and vulnerable. Then I grew up, got some swagger, and for whatever reason became a glutton for punishment. “Sorry” became a permanent fixture in my vocabulary, and I used it without any prejudice. I asked forgiveness a lot – and yet somehow, it lost all meaning.
I didn’t realize, until I sat down to write some letters today, how much the meaning of the word has changed for me in the last year or so. What does it mean to say sorry? What does it mean to ask for forgiveness?
A scene from “The Giver” comes to mind: set in a world where “political correctness” is taken to an extreme, the society presented is an ultra-polite one, where language is filed of hard edges, and everyone is apologizing and accepting apologies left and right. The main character, Jonas, does the same, until he ends up in a situation where he doesn’t want to accept an apology, and doesn’t want his friend to apologize to him. His friend doesn’t get it. In fact, he refuses to carry on with the conversation until Jonas accepts the apology.
Another scene, earlier from that novel – Jonas is hurt by something an adult does. The adult then asks Jonas’ forgiveness and he gives it, even if he doesn’t know exactly what is going on or what his feelings are. It’s a “set up” and the readers aren’t entirely sure what is going on, but thinking back, I can’t help but be frustrated for that kid: how annoying it must be, to have others tell you how you should be behaving, policing your feelings. Oh, and did I mention the aforementioned apology happens onstage, in front of the entire community? Yep. It does.
There’s something very telling right there: Sometimes people don’t want your apology. And that’s fine.
You have to give it regardless of the outcome.
And you have to mean it.
And that is tough.
Last year, for Lent, I wrote letters to people – one each day, to a person I owed some kind of thanks to. This year, I want to write stories. We’ll see where that takes me.