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Saying ‘I’m Sorry,’ and Meaning It

Saying ‘I’m Sorry,’ and Meaning It

Those magic words . . .


“Excuse me,” the woman behind me said in an accusatory fashion.

I had just rejoined my mother in line. She was talking to the cashier, and I had walked in front of the woman in back of her in order to help my mother out. As a child, getting back in line with my mother was considered cute. But now, as a young adult, people are always accusing me of cutting them off.

“I’m with her,” I said, motioning to my mom.

“You are so rude,” the woman bellowed.

“You are so rude,” the woman bellowedI turned around and looked at this blonde 30-something. She was wearing stiletto heels and a leather skirt. Her gaze on me was as tight as her outfit. Her mouth was as stiff as her hairspray.

“Huh?” I questioned innocently.

“You went in front of me without saying ‘Excuse me.’ You have no manners,” she proclaimed.

How could someone say that to me? I thought. I took cotillion as a child. I took etiquette classes in college. I was a classy lady.

I convinced myself that this woman couldn’t possibly have all this anger towards me simply because she thought I cut her in line.

I thought about all the other reasons that she could be irritated. Maybe she was just fired from her job. Possibly her fiance just dumped her. Maybe her outfit was uncomfortable. Perhaps my supposed cutting her in line was just the thing to drive her over the edge.

The words of Hillel entered my head: “Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”

I would want someone to care about my feelings. I would like people to give me a break once in a while. But I don’t always give people the benefit of the doubt. My instinctive reaction of defending myself usually overrides rational thought.

I weighed my options. On the one hand, I could get angry with this woman and put her in her place. That’s the reaction she was probably expecting from me.

On the other hand, there is so much anger in the world already; I didn’t want to add another teaspoon to the mix. Maybe I wouldn’t change the world with a positive response. But it certainly would be worth a try.

Conceivably, my approach to the matter came because of my reflection that it was soon going to be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement or forgiveness. It is a day where the Jewish people pray that our slate of sins be wiped clear. We ask G‑d if we can start anew and promise to do better in the year ahead.

One thing that G‑d cannot fix during Yom Kippur is the hurt we cause others. For that, we have to apologize to them. Today was as good a time as any to start.

“I’m so sorry you felt that way,” I said, in a voice I imagined could make a rock become smooth.

“Well, you should be sorry,” she responded in a chastising manner.

This was not the reaction I was expecting. I was trying really hard to be patient. I discreetly breathed in and out to calm myself. She was not making this easy for me.

I looked inside myself and thought again. If I got mad now, it would be built up from my first encounter with this woman. If I could do that, I thought, it meant I hadn’t truly forgiven her. The fact that I felt angry with her for not forgiving me the first time showed that I was still thinking about myself and not really being sensitive to her feelings. Perhaps her not forgiving me was a sign that I had not forgiven her either.

The other person forgiving you is not enough; you also have to be truly sorry for what you didBefore Yom Kippur, we ask people to forgive us. But the other person forgiving you is not enough; you also have to be truly sorry for what you did. I had unintentionally hurt this woman. I was not sensitive enough to acknowledge her before I ran in front of her. I needed to try to be more aware of others. I needed to become a more sensitive human being.

“I am so sorry,” I said softly, “Is there anything I can do to fix the situation?”

“No, there’s nothing you can do!”

“Well, let me know if you change your mind,” I said, gently. Then I turned around.

I felt frustrated that she was not accepting my apology, but at the same time, I felt a sense of inner peace. At least I had tried to apologize. At least I had tried to do damage control. At least I had cared for another person’s needs besides my own.

I watched the blonde lady out of the corner of my eye, as my mom and I finished checking out. Her arms uncrossed. Her eyes glazed as if they were far off somewhere. Her smug face became contemplative.

We had to walk by her on our way out of the store. Only two steps away from her, I felt a tense hand touch my shoulder. I turned around.

She looked me in the eye. “I am so sorry,” she said sincerely.

There was serenity in the air. Time stopped for a moment. Suddenly, all the problems of the world went away. Perhaps we were just two small people in a world of millions, but right here, right now, we understood each other.

So often we judge people based on a single incident with them. I may never know why she acted so harshly with me before. I do know that if I had reacted back in the same way, I would never have seen this side of her.

“I really overreacted,” her tone was very apologetic. “I hope you can forgive me.”

“No hard feelings,” I said kindly.

I was in awe of the power of forgiveness. “I’m sorry” is the most magical phrase that can ever be uttered. It is the bridge between war and peace, and the building block to the survival of humanity.

Samantha Barnett is a writer. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
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Stuart Leviton Baltimore December 3, 2017

Well written and instructive Thank you for the article dramatizing the principles. The article was well written and left me eyes filled with tears. I look forward to reading more of your writings in the future. Reply

Anonymous Israel September 6, 2015

Moving story but misplaced This is a lovely story but I don't see a direct connection Yom Kippur. It was the responsibility of the other woman to say sorry, you just went over and above what was needed. If we all said sorry for other people on Yom Kippur it would be a festival of irresponsibility. Reply

sorry quotes NY, NY May 22, 2012

Prior to buying how you want to make your apology, try your best to assess your ex's thoughts and feeling. This moreover to the level of what you did will help you make a judgment. If you go about your apology incorrectly you can make your situation more extreme, so make sure of your going about this the right way before you begin. Reply

goldiemae Omaha, Nebraska November 16, 2011

I'm Sorry Two simple words from the heart could prevent a war. Yet, it's often hard to say those words, because to some it is admitting defeat. I'm sorry has become more of a polite phrase like thank you, or excuse me. But when those words are missing, it creates hard feelings and indicates a lack of good manners. The writer did the right things, in my humble opinion. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles , ca via October 7, 2011

Don't apologize too much! I personally had a horrible situation where I apologized to somene, in writing, and two things happened. 1. The person I apologized to ignored my apology. 2. The person's spouse wrote my a really nasty letter for apologizing stating I should've jet left it alone. As a result my relationship with this couple has become strained. Now I actually think twice before apologizing. Maybe it'll make things worse? Am I right? Reply

BSS Jerusalem October 5, 2011

Saying sorry Good article, but here's the other side of the coin to apologizing readily: "I'm sorry" is easy enough to say,and it might even be a good idea to practice saying it before we forgive 100% -- after all, "m'lo lishma ..." (Regularly striving towards a noble goal can make it become an essential part of ourselves.)

HOWEVER, there is some danger in slipping the phrase too nimbly off our tongues: We can become innured to the true meaning of what we say and even use it as a convenient shield to deceive or excuse ourselves. My European father, a"H, had this to say after seeing two or three Westerns in which one character regretted killing another: "Incredible place, America; a man kills a fellow human being, sheds a few tears, says "Sorry" and feels cleansed!"
This might be an extreme example, but unfortunately there are too many parallel situations in our daily lives. In order to protect against "apology abuse", we've got to try mightily to put ourselves in the other person's shoes! Reply

Denise Toronto October 4, 2011

Jen Blonde You seem very angry with the writer, who tried to apologize several times. Reread your post and the tone of it - is it not overreacting and judgemental too?

She didn't commit a huge crime. Reply

Mark Los Angeles, CA October 3, 2011

Great article Thank you for the great example of empathy, which is walking in someone else's shoes for a moment in order to try and get some sense of what they are feeling and why. There are a million reasons why she could have reacted that way to you, and you astutely recognized that her reaction was based on some other event in her life, and not simply due to your actions. Reply

Jen Blonde in Stillotoes LA, CA via October 3, 2011

Tight clothed in stilletoes at the supermarket who "who's fiance probably just dumped her..." If you push infront of someone as an adult, as you are, then it is very "rude" not to acknowledge the person you are displacing. You were rude, and to use a better word, inseneitive and inconsiderate, not to mention incredibly judgenebtal as you summed up your ideas based upon a womans clothing and hair color which is to obvious. I am glad that you said the right things to make peace.. and I hope that you understand yout need to say them with sincerety for your actions. THe woman, as most woman here is, as most women in AMerica, open armed and over forgiving. Her appologies flowed out with love, and she went out of her way to catch up with you, for "over reacting to something that you offended her in her very existence.. and you showed tht power of saying I am sorry,, I hope you meant it. Reply

Anonymous October 3, 2011

I'm Sorry is good for many things, the occasional stupid, uncaring, unthoughtful - I don't think it's good for everything like murder or rape, or theft. Or for nations forcing Israel and Jews to wipe themselves off the map of the world.

The more multiculture, the more we don't understand on another's words or actions; multiculturism breeds offense; so I am for a Torah Nation not a NWO.

Shana Tovah


Anonymous Wilmington, DE via October 3, 2011

SAYING I'M SORRY I am trying hard to learn not to judge my daughter-in-law not knowing all that she faces each and everyday. I want to say I am sorry & try to remember that I am truly sorry the next time an uncomfortable situation arises. Reply

Yehudis Feinstein Tzfat, Israel October 3, 2011

Using the Thank you for a sensitive article on apologizing and on making peace in this world, one person at a time. I wanted to add one thing, if I may, and hope that it wont detract from your gentle words. I have found that the "I" method works wonders. If I say I am sorry that I didn't say excuse me - please excuse me", then there is no "you" in the sentence and there is no "pointing a finger", even in the subtlest way. The ""you" in the sentence always puts a person on the offensive. She could have felt badly that you were apologizing for her feelings, when in fact she just needed to hear the "excuse me - I'm sorry that I seem to have cut in - I'm with my mother.. I hope that I haven't belittled the beauty of your article. It is really a wonderful article. Have a Gmar Chatima Tova. Reply

Chris Long Island, NY September 28, 2011

Thank You I found this article after typing "I'm Sorry" into Google. Reading it made me feel much better. I had a very similar experience, where I played the role of the "blonde thirty-something". I had also overreacted to a perceived slight, after a particularly bad day. I had also apologized, after I finally realized my own selfishness. "I"m sorry" Is a magical phrase. We should forgive each other. We should forgive ourselves. Reply

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