This past week I’ve been carrying around an apologetic urge. A feeling of remorse and memories of wrongdoing. The urge is heavy and damp. It pools in my jaw and behind my eyes, threatening to spill over but without doing so. Its as if it hasn’t permission. I know it sounds archaic but I’m rapt in ideas of forgiveness and repentance. There’s a poem by David Whyte, it says:
Those who do not slip beneath the still surface on the well of grief, turning down through its black waters to the place we cannot breathe, will never know the source from which we drink the secret water cold and clear, nor find in the darkness glimmering the small round coins thrown by those who asked for something else.
Its not the first time I’ve found myself with that poem stuck in my head like a song. In the past I thought perhaps it was an invitation to enter into a place of sorrow, and I still think that’s what’s there. And yet I’ve tried to sit with my sadness and pain until it surrounds me and I touch the deep blue heart of it but I’ve not seen the coins nor felt the coolness.
Now I wonder whether the wellspring of grief isn’t full of the pain of those who asked something else of me.
What does it mean to feel sorry? What does it mean to apologise?
In the concept of restorative justice the appropriate course of action for criminal offenders is to sit with their victims and hear about all the consequences of their actions. The idea being that the best way to reduce recidivism is for offenders to feel the loss that’s been handed out in their name.
In my case I’ve not committed any crimes at odds with the law. In that regard my transgressions are minor, and yet, they are not minor with regard to the people in whose company I have been dishonest, in whose confidence I have been untrustworthy, and in whose hope I have been false. But this is not a confession. Its an attempt to understand what it means to take responsibility for pain. To sit with it. I think part of what it means is to sit with pain caused, and to feel sorry.
There runs a risk this lament will take on a religious air, and those parts of me still unforgiving will demand a punitive addendum to the contents of my reckoning. So I'll name that now, and proceed anyway to take my seat and enter into awareness of human nature, my own. Begin to really know that the line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. That my actions have consequences, and that those consequences contribute to the well of grief in me, whose waters are mixed with other people’s tears.
Last week I wrote about regret. I cited Annaka Harris who is adamant that regret is useless, because it assumes something else could have taken the place of whatever it is that is regrettable. Instead she advises compassion, because pain is a tragedy, and becoming aware of pain is a burden made no lighter by self flagellation. And yet made uglier by the denial of an interpersonal location, and the assumption of a personal story only.
Not all depressions are the same. But perhaps in some of them is this invitation to remorse.