Saying “I’m sorry” is an opportunity for connection and respect.

 Photo courtesy Pixabay. Photo courtesy Pixabay.

My husband Michael leans vegetarian and I “steer” Paleo. It’s hard enough to cook shared meals at home, but finding a restaurant with a menu that works for us both is tougher than beef jerky.

When we do agree on a restaurant, Michael seems to be the one whose order gets messed up. It happened again last week when we went out for dinner.

When our waitress came to take our order, Michael asked for the fish stew only if it wasn’t prepared with any meat or dairy. When our efficient, bubbly waitress brought the stew to our table, she stated that she had checked with the kitchen, and neither ingredient was used.

When the stew came, Michael took a few bites and was suspicious. After digging around, he pulled out what looked like a thin sliver of bacon. I was sure it was an anchovy, I mean, who would put bacon in fish stew? And I wanted it to be an anchovy. I didn’t want Michael to have the hassle, yet again, of returning a dish.

Michael called the waitress over and very nicely showed her the unidentified sliver.

She was immediately apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” she said, looking aghast. She stopped her bustling, stood still for a moment and looked right at us as she said it.

At that instant, I felt like the Velveteen Rabbit who became real. Michael and I stopped being customers, no longer just a tip waiting to happen. We were real people. The customer-to-server transaction had become a person-to-person connection. Our waitress made that happen.

She picked up the bowl and, with a no-nonsense tone, said she had checked with the chef, but she would march it back there and double-check again. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated.

I knew she got it – that if Michael had a food allergy or a religious ordinance against eating meat, rather than just a preference, the potential mistake would be a big deal. That mattered to her. She could understand how we might feel, even though she had no way of knowing that for my husband and I, surprises in our food (as long as they’re edible) won’t have emergency-room or heaven-or-hell consequences.

When she returned, she again stood resolutely before us and explained. Over the din in the kitchen, there had been a miscommunication. It WAS bacon in the stew. “I’m so sorry,” she said again. Her apology was authentic. Dignified. And that, more than all her efficient waitressing skills thus far, earned her my respect.

I asked her name, grabbed her hand. “It’s OK,” Kari, I said. “Thank you for being so refreshing.”

It’s hard to achieve a dignified, authentic I’m sorry. It requires a pause, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, hanging your ego in the coat check. It requires a connection. You have to feel how the other person might feel, or at least try to imagine it.

If we got better at understanding how others feel, I think it would be easier to say I’m sorry when it’s due. And I think we’d know more often that I’m sorry IS due. If you need to, maybe you can practice on the little slivers in life. Who knows? It may help you avoid a heaven-or-hell apology.

If you need a role model to get you started, I can hook you up with an awesome waitress.