Last week I read an incredibly moving obituary in the New York Times. It was for Walter B. Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina who was a staunch supporter of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Then, after attending a memorial service for a fallen soldier, he had an epiphany… you can read the article below to learn how this came about. Walter Jones became a staunch opponent of the war. And, because he felt so remorseful about the damage this war had caused to so many families, he decided to atone for his earlier support of the war.
Mr. Jones wrote letters of apology to the families of every American killed in any conflict in which the United States had been involved since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
At the time of his death, Mr. Jones (at age 76), had written more than 12,000 letters.
This, to me, is astounding. Because I think we live in a society that misunderstands apologies. We seem to swing one way or the other: we’re either afraid to apologize because we look weak and vulnerable, or we apologize for everything. I was once a student in a conversational Spanish class with a pretty intimidating instructor. One woman was so flustered that after making a mistake, she said, “I’m sorry”. Every time. The instructor continuously bellowed “Stop saying you’re sorry!” which only flustered her more, and, of course caused her to apologize even more. Finally, it seems that many of us do a half-apology, as in “I’m sorry you feel that way”, suggesting that it is really the aggrieved person’s fault.
I do think apologizing in a sincere manner is what we can all strive for. Even if we don’t understand how or why our actions caused pain, we can still acknowledge it and vow to do better next time. At least that is what I am striving to do.
I wonder if Walter Jones ever got a satisfactory response, as in, “I forgive you”. Even if he did, I’m sure that did not slow down his letters.
He was sorry, and he said so. Each and every time.
To read the obituary: