I grew up with a mother who had a bad temper. Once she was going, it was best that you took cover and let the hurricane pass. I hated when I was the one in her path. That woman scared me. My brother was older and figured out the art of calming her down. He knew the right things to say. Me, I just made it worse when I opened up my mouth. I learned how to shut up and take what she shoveled out. Her anger became my shame. All I could do is apologize.
Then Love Story came out. I’m showing my age here. It was a movie starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil. A sappy, tragic, unrealistic love story that leaves the female lead dead in the end. (Yeah, dead female leads will be another blog for the future) And it was wildly popular. The big tagline from that movie was, “Love means you never having to say you’re sorry”. Was that implying that love meant your relationship never had strife? You never argued if you really loved someone? Well crap. If love meant you never had to say your sorry, man my mom must have loved me way more than I thought.
When I had kids, I would tell them that instead of saying sorry over and over they should try very hard not to repeat whatever it was that they did instead of just the endless sorry, sorry, sorry. I am not sure I knew what really being sorry meant or if it was just a way to make whatever was going on stop. I have found that I don’t always take my own advice.
So fast forward, I was traveling a couple weeks ago and I had a connection through Chicago O’hare Airport. It was a very tight connection and of course, O’hare being O’hare, my gate was on the total opposite side of the airport. I’m trying to make myself believe that the airlines do this as a courtesy so after a long flight you have to walk in order to get the blood flow moving in your legs. Yeah, they are trying to help you avoid blood clots. OK, it’s a thought that is a work in progress. Anyway, I had to negotiate my way around 3 or 4 groups of people just standing at the end of the escalator or one group in the door of the train. Every time as I walked around these groups I would say and I can hear my voice as I type this, Sorry. Wait, what? These groups are not paying attention and clogging up the walkway I am the one who is saying sorry? It’s not my intention to be grandiose just an observation of my behavior.
So I started to pay attention I how many times I say sorry. I found that I say I am sorry that my kids are tired. They don’t live with me so I have nothing to do with them being tired. I am sorry that the lady at Ralph’s ran into my cart when she was texting and pushing, I was standing still looking at the cheese slices. I was sorry for the numerous strollers that cut me off in Disneyland.
What was I doing?
I think you can get a feel of where this was going. We all do it. I think women are especially prone to this. Women say they are sorry for the slightest thing. I read this great quote from Melody Bettie. It says something to the effect that by apologizing all the time it is a way that we shame ourselves just for being alive. We all are born with value. We can’t get more because we are more educated, or have lots of money or are beautiful. And we can’t get less because of the color of our skin or where we live. Just the fact of being alive gives us equal value.
Sorry is something that just falls out of my mouth without much thought. I have decided to replace it with oops. And if I am feeling spicy, I might add sorry, not sorry. It makes me think about what that sorry means to me. I think I need to make something really clear here. I am not suggesting that I am off the hook for making amends for the wrongs I have caused. I just think that for me it makes those genuine apologies more powerful when they are really from the heart. Words matter to me. It is a clearer path when I use words the right way. I also think that just because I am sorry that doesn’t automatically mean the person I have hurt has to forgive me. That is their choice to do when they are ready. Forgiveness is on their terms, not mine.
So next time you see a middle-aged woman rushing through the airport repeating OOPS, sorry, not sorry …
That might be me.