The crash happened in a split second. One minute my husband was driving down North Monroe Street, and in a flash a sedan darted out in front of him from a side street.
By the time he hit the brakes, he had hit the car, which spun 180 degrees, ending up with its back end in the southbound lane and its front end in the northbound.
Stunned and shaken, he pulled over in a nearby church parking lot. An off-duty fireman stopped to see if he was OK while others checked on the teenage girl and her passenger.
Derek drives an F-150 truck, and it hit the rear passenger door of the small sedan. All of the car’s airbags deployed. Amazingly, no one was injured.
“What were you thinking?” Derek asked the driver.
She said she had seen him signal to change lanes on the busy four-lane section of Monroe and thought he was turning. She thought she had time to make it across the intersection.
She thought wrong on all counts, and her mistake could have had a much higher price than just the inconvenience of damaged vehicles and time spent on insurance paperwork.
In the following days, Derek wavered between anger and relief. Several weeks later when the dust and the insurance had settled and his truck repaired, he received a letter from the girl.
“I’m sincerely sorry for the accident I caused. I’m very grateful you’re OK. This accident made me realize how very short life is – your life could be taken in any minute.”
The note seemed genuine and heartfelt, and whether her mother made her write it or not, the effect on Derek was liberating. He had already moved past anger, but her words allowed him to think more kindly of her.
A sincere apology will do that.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that happened more often?
Instead, sorry/not sorry has become a hashtag on Twitter, a popular Demi Lovato song, and a featured phrase in everyday conversation. Sorry/not sorry is what you say when you acknowledge your words or actions may have upset someone, but you really don’t care.
Huckleberries columnist Dave Oliveria refers to insincere mea-culpas as “ap-hollow-gies.”
It’s like when my boys were fighting and someone’s feelings, body, or toy had been hurt, and I’d admonish the offender to tell his brother he was sorry.
“Sorry,” the culprit would mumble.
The word was right, but often the body-language – arms folded, eyes-rolling, shoulders shrugging – revealed the kid was less than repentant.
That kind of apology usually resulted in further consequences. Even so, an “I’m sorry” rendered because a kid doesn’t want his video game privileges revoked, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
And speaking of hearts, there are times when even the most genuine mea culpa cannot mend or alleviate the pain of damage done.
Think of the courtroom apologies proffered by people who have killed or maimed someone while driving drunk. Or the relationships broken by betrayal. Or the workplace gossip that results in job loss.
While saying sorry may be the right thing to do, it doesn’t automatically translate into forgiveness.
And sometimes we can be haunted by the apology we never received.
Many years ago, someone close to Derek treated him very badly. Harsh words and untruths were spoken. He waited for an apology or even an acknowledgement of wrongs done.
It never came.
Eventually, Derek chose to forgive this person. It had little to do with the offender and everything to do with my husband’s peace of mind.
Forgiveness is a choice, and so is asking for it.
The letter from the young driver demonstrates what it means to acknowledge harm done and accept responsibility for it.
“I know I’m young and learning. I know that this was my fault, and I take full blame,” she wrote. “This has helped me look at life from a different perspective. I appreciate every moment for what it is. Once again I apologize.”
Contact Cindy Hval at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”