by | Sep 19, 1999 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I’m sorry.

To you, who are reading this column in the kitchen. To you, who are reading over coffee at the deli. To you, who are stretched out in an easy chair after a long afternoon of football-watching. To all of you within the reach of this paper and this ink.

I’m sorry.

Not just for the things I know I’ve done to upset you. Like the columns on gun control, which the well-meaning gun lovers send back to me with comments like,
“liberal commie pinko idiot.”

Or the columns in which I criticize casino gambling, which come back with comments like, “Who put you in charge? You liberal commie pinko idiot.”

No, I also apologize for things that upset you without my knowledge. Perhaps a joke I wrote about a public figure who, unbeknownst to me, happens to be your close friend. Or an unfair criticism of your industry that made you feel stereotyped.

For all those things — or any other wrongs I have done but am unaware of — I apologize. Please, forgive me.

I do this today, because I am trying out a novel idea. It is a tradition that the Jewish community has been doing for millennia. It is very simple. It’s called saying you’re sorry, once a year, to everyone.

And meaning it.

What a concept.

A national day to atone

Now, this is particularly timely, because tonight marks the start of a special holiday for Jews. It is called Yom Kippur, also known as “The Day of Atonement.”

Traditionally, this solemn occasion is when Jews ask God to forgive them. But there is, I have learned, another tradition. One in which you ask those around you for forgiveness, too.

In fact, according to this tradition, you should seek out everyone in your circle and apologize not just for the obvious hurts you have caused, but for hurts you might have inflicted without even knowing it. Maybe a crack you made months ago. Or a party invitation you ignored. An insult. A brush-off. A snub. Whatever.

The thinking is, just because the victim doesn’t complain doesn’t mean there was no harm done. If you initiate the “I’m sorry,” it may open the door to forgiveness, and in some cases may save a relationship from falling apart.

A pre-emptive apology.

What a wonderful idea.

How much nicer would this country be if this were an annual tradition? If once a year, the same way we send Christmas cards or buy birthday presents, we also said, “Forgive me”? If once a year, we eliminated the lump in our throats that forms over the following: “I was wrong. I am sorry.”

Such simple words. So difficult to say.

An opportunity lost

I have learned the value of these words quite poignantly over the last few years. In writing the book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” I watched my old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying from ALS, break into tears when he told me of an old friend with whom he had lost touch. Once they had been so close. But a silly little argument had split them apart.

“I found out last year,” Morrie said, “that this friend died of cancer.”

He began to weep openly.

“I never had the chance to make it up to him. I never had the chance to say I’m sorry. Why did I let that stupid little argument separate us for all these years?”

I watched Morrie cry. He could no longer move his arms or legs, he was weeks away from death, but he wept not for his weakened health, but for missed opportunity. He wept for the days, weeks and years that he could have spent in loving companionship with a friend, but instead lost to stubbornness.

“If there’s anyone you care about that you’re fighting with now,” Morrie told me, “let it go. Say you were wrong — even if you think you’re right. Because I promise you, when you get to this point in your life . . .”

He nodded to his dying body.

“You won’t care who was right or wrong. You’ll only want to savor every minute you had with them.”

You think about the time we spend angry at one another. You think about the grudges we hold. And then you read about a gunman who storms into a church and mows down seven innocent people. And you realize that you never know whether today is your last day.

So I offer an apology now, because if the news is teaching us anything, it’s that time is precious. Why waste it in anger? It’s just two words you give up
— “I’m sorry” — and think of all you gain.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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