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The “f” word

Walkers in the rain pass the St. Ignatius of Loyola statue on the Gonzaga University campus on Thursday.  (Dan Pelle)
Walkers in the rain pass the St. Ignatius of Loyola statue on the Gonzaga University campus on Thursday. (Dan Pelle)

I loved him. He loved me, but when I left for college he couldn’t love me across the miles, so he wrote a good-bye letter, an ugly letter with untruths, cruel comments. I cried and quickly survived. When we met decades later, we laughed about all our teen-age adventures and how we skillfully violated curfews. Our relationship had always been one of easy conversation – any topic, no limits. So when he paused and grew serious, I paid attention. “I have to tell you I always felt terrible about the way I ended…” I interrupted, trying to save him. “Oh! But I have only great memories…you set the standard very high…” He interrupted back and said, “Please! I have to say this.” Then he said he was sorry. I smiled, but knew he wanted more. “Do you need me to say the word?” I asked.  “Yes, I need to hear the words.” And so I said the “f” word: “I forgive you, of course! Of course, I forgive you.” He exhaled audibly, his face relaxed and he said, "Thank you, thank you."  

Ten years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I remembered that “f”-word conversation. I wanted to say I am so sorry to another man I once loved madly. I had told untruths laced with cruel comments when I ended our relationship decades ago. If I was going to die of this dreaded disease, I must tell him the real story. Not wanting to blindside him on the phone, I emailed him – asking for no reply, really. I just wanted him to read my words, to know the truth. He did – and responded with his usual kindness, “I have only great memories of that magical time…”

Recently, the president of the Tacoma School Board, Kurt Miller, offered an apology, 42 years after the incident, to a former teacher. Jim Gaylord was a Washington state history teacher in 1972. He was fired, not because he was a bad teacher or unethical. He was fired for his sexual orientation.

“Forty-two years later, all we can do is to apologize,” Miller said. “We want to give him the dignity back.”

Gaylord said that it felt really good to put a nice ending to an unfortunate story.

Forgiveness is an “f” word  often ignored. We blame and condemn and seldom own up to our bad behavior when we should. Asking for and granting forgiveness takes courage. Not easy - even when we need to forgive ourselves.

Apologizing to an erstwhile love, a former employee or anyone we have hurt, brings healing. So, say you are sorry. And when you do, you just may hear a lovely “f” word in reply.

(S-R archive photo: Gonzaga University)

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Spokesman-Review features writer Rebecca Nappi, along with writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., discuss here issues facing aging boomers, seniors and those experiencing serious illness, dying, death and other forms of loss.