23 September 2013
When Your Apology Isn't Accepted
There's something that has been weighing heavily on me for the past several months, and on Friday, it finally came to a head. Because you know I share everything here on my blog, I wanted to write about it, thinking that it would be good to hear your ideas, reflection, insights as well. It's all about forgiveness, and hurt, and apologizing, and then ...have you ever thought about what happens when your apology is not accepted? Here's what happened.
My coworkers and I used to put in a couple dollars a week to play the lottery. My one coworker was in charge of the winnings which we would keep to buy more tickets when the jackpots got big. We would always communicate via email. So when one day the jackpot winnings were at an all time high, my coworker (let's call him Ray) sent out an email: "Shall we use some of our booty to purchase more chances for tonight's drawing?" In regular form, our group sent back responses saying yes. Now, mind you, Ray has always been very jovial, fun, and has always had a good sense of humor. Playing on his use of the word "booty" I wrote back, "I agree! An idle booty is the devil's playground". You know that old saying, right? Idle hands are the devil's playground. All I meant was yes, let's put the money to good use.
I thought nothing of it. The following day, though, my friend was very quiet. All day. When I was leaving, I asked, "Ray, what's up?" No response. "Ray?" He responded, "Nothing, just busy." Okay, maybe he's a little moody. I thought nothing of it and off I went for the weekend. On Monday, when Ray walked in, I greeted him with my usual good morning. Nothing. No response. And the several hours later, I received an email from him. "I thought about it all weekend, and I don't know what you meant by your comment, but I will no longer be handling the money for the lottery." WHAT? Seriously. I went back to re-read my email to see if I said anything wrong. Nope. So I wrote back. I explained what I meant...that it meant nothing. I was trying to just make a play on the words he had used. Obviously, I said, it was misunderstood and if I had offended him by it, I was truly sorry. I explained that he was my friend! We had known one another for 10 years. And I would NEVER do or say anything to hurt him. And if I had, again, I apologize. I waited for a response. It never came.
And then there was silence. I thought, okay, maybe he didn't get to the email yet. He seemed busy. I waited. One day, two days. Still nothing. You have to know that we work in an office. I have a cubicle, and there are four of us that share a quad of cubicles. So we're right there in each other's space. The silence from him, flowed over to my other coworker, his friend who announced via email that he had decided that he was no longer going to play the lottery and wanted out. I had decided that I didn't want to be part of it any longer either because losing friendships over something so petty wasn't worth it. And within a day, our lottery group that had been playing for the past 4-5 years disbanded. The small amount of winnings we had were all divided up among us players and that was that.
But the silence continued. Our department has always prided themselves on being close with one another. We're the "fun" group of our office. Yet now, this whole thing had thrown a wrench in the works. Days turned to weeks, a week turned into a month. I would literally come to work, say good morning in my quad. Other than a "good morning" from the other two (not Ray), not one would talk to me until I said, "good night guys" at the end of the day when the same two would say goodnight. The third coworker was not involved in it at all, but because he works for Ray, if Ray ain't talkin' he wasn't either.
Anyways, it was incredibly uncomfortable to say the least. Of course there are other people in our office that I would talk to, but this was always there for me. If you know me, you know that peace is a big part of me. My heart has to be at peace or I'm not okay. This all started back in June. My boss had been on vacation. When she returned, she felt it. She asked me what was going on. And I told her. I shared with her my email that I had sent...Ray's response, and my apology. She thought that was really strange. She didn't understand. She told me she would handle it..that she didn't want this type of thing going on, but I asked her to please give it more time. I just cringed at the idea of her calling us in. As I had been the odd man out here, I thought it was just going to put more of a strain on things. I told her that I would like to handle it. She was getting ready to go on a business trip. She said okay and that she'd check back in after her returned in 3 weeks.
By now over a month had gone by. The silence was taking it's toll on me. I couldn't sleep. I discussed it with my husband, my mom, my daughter. I didn't understand why he couldn't accept my apology. I didn't understand how this person that I thought was my friend, would think that I would say something to offend him. My health started suffering for it. I had to go to the doctor who said my stomach problems were from stress. I even started looking for another job.
With my boss gone, I had incentive to get this worked out before her returned. All the while I had been praying about this. Asking God to open Ray's heart so he could see inside mine. I thought I'd try again. That Monday, I wrote him another email. I asked if he would have a few minutes to talk to me. I told him I understood he was upset, but I didn't understand why...and again, obviously, I said, it was because of my initial comment, but i truly didn't mean anything of it...and again, I apologized. Would he have time this afternoon to resolve this? I received no response. The whole day I waited. The following day I came to work, and he had responded. He said there was nothing to talk about. We should just allow time to take it's course. That was it. And he left on a 3 week vacation.
This whole thing has been very stressful and difficult for me. I am a Christian. I don't take that lightly. Those that I talked to about it told me I had nothing to apologize about. But I didn't have a problem with that. We're all human. We are not perfect. And if I had hurt someone, I had no problem in apologizing for my offense. But the difficult part of this whole equation was that I had done my part, but my apology wasn't accepted. And not only was it not accepted, it was ignored. I started thinking about apologies. When we forgive someone we do it not for them but for us. I started working on forgiving him....so that I could start dealing with what I was feeling because as the weeks were going on, getting up and going to work was getting more and more difficult. At work, I continued trying. I continued saying good morning. I continued saying good night.
When my boss returned she didn't mention it. A couple more weeks went by. And then two weeks ago we all went out to lunch with a client. Ray was late, and when he arrived, the only seat left was across from me. Dread. Everything was fine with the group. My boss was sitting next to Ray, I joined in the conversation with the others in our department, and Ray directed his conversation to everyone but me. And my boss picked up on it. That afternoon she called me into her office to find out what happened while she was gone. I explained the attempt. Shared the email with her, and Ray's non-response. I told her I didn't know what else to do. I had tried.
A few days later, my boss called Ray in. The door was shut. And they were in there a long while. When he came out, he went back to his desk and continued working. The following morning, I asked my boss if she had spoken to him. She was busy. Yes, she said, she had. She could talk to me about it sometime when she had more time. In the meantime, she said, Ray was supposed to talk to me.
This past Thursday, nearly a week after that (and three months after the initial incident), as I was packing up for the day, Ray came up and asked if I would have time on Friday, after lunch, to talk. "You want to talk to me?", I said. "Sure." The following day he approached me in the afternoon. He suggested we go outside to talk, so down the elevator we went, outside to sit in the plaza. He started out saying, "I don't know where to start with this. The boss says you're upset." You can imagine my inner reaction to that, right? I mean here's a man that has made such an effort to ignore me for the past 3 months...and he says we're talking cuz I'm upset? So if he didn't know where to start, I would just have to help him. And I did.
I think God opened my mouth for me. I told him that he knew very well what he was doing, because being cruel was not something that anyone did naturally. I reminded him that I had apologized 3 times, yet he had chosen not to even discuss or acknowledge that apology. I told him I didn't understand what I had done or said that offended him so badly. I asked him to explain. And as I always do when I am frustrated, I started to cry. To which he replied "Don't take it personally like that....you don't have to be upset." Really? Apparently, my comment had made him feel that I was questioning how the money from the lottery funds were handled. Go figure. Although he understood that I had apologized, he said that sometimes people say things and then apologize after but the damage had been done. I asked, did he feel this was my case? We went around and around He told me that he was sorry that he had made me feel so bad. I asked him if he accepted my apology. His response took me aback. He said, "Well, I've learned to move on." I told him that wasn't the same thing. He said, "I can forgive...but it's going to be hard to forget." I was stunned. Forget what? But then I thought about all I had been through too. And I conceded. "Okay I said. I get that, because I can forgive you too....but I will have a hard time forgetting as well."
I think the thing that really hurt me the most about this entire stupid thing was the fact that this is a person that I considered my friend. Not a dear friend, but this is someone that I see at work 5 days a week. I thought that after 10 years of working together, that I knew him...and he would know me. I told him that he should know by now, that I would never want to do anything to hurt a friend. Intentionally or unintentionally. And there was also hurt there because I thought I knew him. I wouldn't think that a friend would intentionally want to hurt me either. We don't do that. Yet he had. And he knew it. When I called him on it, he had no answer.
So how did it end? Well, he asked how we should move on. I told him I would like us to be civil. To start saying hello again. We didn't need to be best friends, but we should be courteous. It will take time we both agreed. I told him that I had prayed for him. That God would open his heart to understand mine. He said, "Well, maybe it worked." That was it. We took the elevator back up. At the end of the day, I packed it up and said, "Good night." "Good night," he said. That was the first thing he has said to me in the office in 3 months. It's a start.
I am relieved that it's over...that it's somewhat resolved. Although I know things will ever be the same between us. I can forgive, though it's difficult to understand why someone would want to hurt someone by not accepting their apology. Perhaps he didn't know me as well as I thought he did. Who knows. All I can do is keep praying and let it go. I found this nice quote on forgiveness by Mark Twain.
"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." - Mark Twain
The violet has no choice but to be crushed by the heel though. I did have a choice to allow Ray to crush me with his actions. And I don't know why it was so stressful for me and why I allowed it to hurt me so much. Because truly, in my heart, I KNEW that I hadn't done or said anything to hurt him. So why? Why couldn't I just let it go knowing that I had done my best to resolve the situation? Why not just say, "hey not everyone has to like me...." y'know? I'm still taking a look at that one. At what point do we need to stop apologizing? In my case, I think it was more of a character issue. It was important to me that he understand that I wasn't like that. I would do something to hurt him. Yet, looking at it from the other side now, obviously, I had. I suppose Ray's not acknowledging my apology was his way of punishing me. But in turn, wasn't it more of a punishment to the self to have to put yourself through purposely working so hard to hurt the one you're upset with? Anyways, these are all things that I'm pondering. What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.