When apologizing is a sign of strength.

Person breaking free of handcuffs.
Breaking free of handcuffs. Image courtesy Pexels.com.

When I was a sophomore in college, I drove to Fort Lauderdale for spring break with my two roommates. It was my first time in Florida, first time on a road trip with friends, first time being threatened with arrest.

We were at a bar somewhere on the boardwalk. Most of the patrons—the guys, at least—sardined themselves into the back of the room around a low stage, whooping and hollering at a wet T-shirt contest. The air was a haze of cigarette smoke. The floor was sticky with beer, covered in peanut shells, and littered with empty plastic Solo cups.

When I finished my beer, I didn’t want to throw my cup on the floor. I didn’t see the big deal in throwing it in a trash can. Trouble was, I couldn’t find one. Wandering among the drunken hordes, avoiding the stage and the wet floor surrounding it, I searched for a place to deposit my empty cup.

When I got near the front entrance, I saw an overflowing receptacle just outside the door. Stepping out into the glaring light, I paused for a moment to reflect on the ribbon of people waiting to get inside. The line seemed endless. The bar must have been full to capacity, and a bouncer stood guard, waiting for people to leave before allowing new customers to enter.

I tossed my cup, then returned to the dungeon of debauchery.

After my second beer, I didn’t bother searching inside for a trash can. I knew right where to go. One step out, one step back in. Except this time, the bouncer stopped me.

“On no, you don’t,” he snarled at me, “you butted line once, you’re not doing it again.”

“But I was just …”

“I don’t wanna hear it. Go to the back of the line.”

“But I just …”

“Girlie, if you don’t move now, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested.”

I was stunned. The bouncer’s words stung like a slap to my face, and my face burned in response. My sense of injustice at being wrongly accused was crushing.

I’m trying to do the right thing, I wanted him to know. But my hands were effectively tied, and I knew I had to leave.

Shaking, heart pounding, gesturing wildly, I pleaded with the bouncer to let me back inside to retrieve my purse. He threatened to come in and find me if I wasn’t out in five minutes. I hurriedly found my purse, told my friends what happened, and waited for them outside. As soon as they joined me, I broke down, sobbing.

The fact that I remember this incident, and that I can still conjure the hurt, says a lot about the depth of that hurt.

It comes to mind today because I’m in the middle of a similar hurt.

It doesn’t involve beer or bars or garbage cans, and the only wet T-shirts are my husband’s in the washing machine.

But the hurt involves unwarranted accusations against my character. My attempts to defend myself are being ignored. My hands again are effectively tied.

This time, my accusers are people whose opinion of me I value. Hearing their condemnations is crushing.

The wound is still fresh. It’s so deep, I can’t imagine how it will heal. Writing about it, exploring my thoughts, sharing it here is part of my healing process.

In most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

I believe that in most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

In this recent conflict, I recognized my culpability, and apologized–in person, and via phone, text, email, and snail mail. None of the other parties has apologized yet. But I’m not responsible for them. I am only responsible for myself.

Undue apologizing–when you haven’t done anything wrong–is usually a people-pleasing, victim-y reaction borne of low self-esteem. Women fall into this trap more often than men. However, when an apology is justified, delivering that apology takes courage.

Apologizing, when justified, is courageous.

Even more courageous, requiring incredible restraint, is to apologize without requiring an apology in return, even when a return apology is warranted.

What strength it takes to say, “I’m sorry,” and to let that stand alone when an I’m sorry is due back to you.

I’ve learned that one of my super powers is to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, to apologize when necessary, and to let go of my expectations of other’s apologies or lack thereof.

Apologizing without requiring an apology in return is my superpower.

It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, right now, it sucks. But I’ll hold myself to a higher standard. That feels good. That will help me heal. No matter how much trash lays at my feet, I will always move toward the light.

On the twelfth day of Christmas…

A twelfth day's work- filled with joy and peace.
A twelfth day’s work.

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Unless yesterday was. I guess it depends on how you count.

After a party at our house last night, when the guests had left and the clean-up was done, Michael and I poured ourselves a drink and crashed on the living room couch.

As the fire in the fireplace ebbed, I admired the lit Christmas tree, the garland on the mantle, the manger on the end table, the little stuffed Santa’s helper with his bag of toys nestled in the chair.

“This year,” I told Michael, “I’m really going to miss these Christmas decorations.”

In previous years, by the time New Year’s Day rolled around, I was tired of all the holiday clutter, and couldn’t wait to pack it all up and drag the bins up to the attic. I couldn’t wait to restore order to my home.

In previous years, we’ve had a real tree, and by January 1, it practically begged us to put it out of its dry-needled misery. Once the tree was gone, all the other decorations made their exit, too.

This year we bought an artificial Christmas tree. As we discussed and planned the upcoming party—my husband’s annual post-holiday celebration for his staff—we decided to leave the tree in place, knowing the fake needles wouldn’t protest. We left all the other Christmas bling in place, too.

Last night, as I looked around, I was sad to think of the house without its festive dressing, but I didn’t know why.

Then it clicked.

I have a small box of ornaments labeled “Karen’s favorites,” and each year, I make sure they find a spot on the tree. This year, I decided to purge all seven Christmas bins of any item that I didn’t like or had no sentimental value. Then I bought some inexpensive gold bows and white ceramic snowflakes to hang in the dining room, since its peach wallpaper (a holdover from the previous owners) goes with red and green about as well as Santa goes with an Easter basket.

Everything was a favorite.

Today, when I got out the empty “Karen’s favorites” box, and looked at what needed to fit in there, I realized everything was a favorite:

The red velvet drum with gold brocade trim. Tiny drumsticks sit crossed on the top, the handles wrapped in gold thread. I made it when I was about eight, from a toilet paper tube and q-tips. It reminds me how much I enjoyed my artistic creativity, and how much my mother nurtured that in me.

The little girl and little boy on separate swings that my sister gave us on our first Christmas. Michael and I have a tradition of “hanging” each other.

The hand blown glass ball I bought years ago at a Dansk going-out-of business sale with my mom when she was visiting.

A plastic victorian house, a copper watering can, a cut glass snowflake. And these favorites, too.

Everything I kept and everything I added filled me with joy. That’s why I was sad to see it go.

By mid afternoon, when Mike and I finished packing the bins, parts of the house looked bare, but we moved our familiar furniture back into place, rehung pictures, and filled the voids. I was at peace.

Filling my life with joy, filling the voids with peace–not a bad way to end one year and start another.

I wish the same for you this year!

Personal growth—before, during, and after.

Personal growth. C.S.Lewis quote.
Personal growth wisdom from C. S. Lewis.

I’m at a lull in my memoir manuscript. I’d been tackling the After section—the two decades or so since my son’s 1997 diagnosis with a brain tumor. It’s this time period–after the climax of the story–when most of my personal growth occurred. 

Most of my personal growth occurred in the After.

Before and During are in semi-final draft form; writing their dramatic scenes was easy compared to wrangling the life lessons of After onto the page. That’s why After is still partially in the “shitty first draft” stage (per Anne Lamott). And The End has not yet been penned.

One of my followers on social media wondered recently if she had missed any posts here on my website, since she hadn’t seen anything lately. Another follower who subscribes via email made a similar comment.

Nope. They, and you, haven’t seen new posts here because I’ve been working on the “business” side of my authorship trajectory. I’ve been trying to make a name for myself in the writing world, trying to get “found.” In the process, I’ve spread myself thinner than gingerbread cookie dough. 

For me, maintaining the business side of a writing career requires personal growth daily.

I wish I could clone myself or at least grow another pair of hands, but until that technology is invented, I’m stuck with fitting all my to-dos into the same 24 hours that you have.

But I do worry that some of you are missing out, so I’ll share some “business side” insider info.

Here’s the inside scoop:

If you follow or like my Facebook writer page, you’ll get to know me better, not just as a writer, but as a person. My page is strictly non-political (how often does that happen nowadays)? In fact, I strive to post only messages that bring people together, rather than tear them apart. Recently, I’ve told some stories of Christmas tree ornaments I made when I was first married. The message is not about Christmas per se, it’s about the lessons we glean from the mementos we save. 

You can follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

And if you subscribe via email, you’ll get in on some action coming up in 2019! For example, I’d love your help in tweaking my new header design for this website. And I hope to create a guided meditation audio with your input. It will be FREE to email subscribers only! If you’re not sure whether you’re on my email list, don’t worry–you won’t get duplicate emails if you sign up twice. 

Just scroll over or down to the “Enter email” box, and sign up to get in on the action in 2019!

There. Business commercial over. Back to my manuscript…

As hard as it is to write the After section of my memoir, the final chapter makes it all worthwhile. I’m blessed to have that reality. So many sad stories don’t have happy endings; mine does. My journey of personal growth was long and arduous, but I survived. As did my son. In fact, we are both thriving.

In fact, The End is so surprising and uplifting, I’m thinking of naming the final chapter 

“And then a miracle happened.”

Tis the season for miracles, is it not? I’ll be looking for moments amidst the holiday hoopla to create a miracle of words on the pages of my memoir. 

And as soon as After becomes Finished, I’ll be sure to let you know.