One of the worst aspects of my personality is that I have a tendency to hold grudges forever. I consider it to be a tremendous character flaw, one I'm actively working on improving as the years go by. Despite my best efforts to convince myself to let go of resentment for those who have wronged me or my family and friends, forgiveness has never gotten much easier. Recently, however, I had an experience that rocked me to my core and opened up a new emotional playing field.
It all began when a woman named Verónica was supposed to collaborate with me on a big, exciting work project. There was a lot of money on the line and the chance to create something wonderful that could represent both of us very well. A few days into the collaboration, however, she stopped responding to my emails. When I reached out to her on the phone to ask about it, my calls were ignored. Then text messages were ignored. She ghosted me — just like that. It was a strange experience and one that had never happened to me before, so I wasn't quite sure how to react. We were both professionals. Nothing had gone wrong on the project because really, we hadn't even started. I started to wonder if something horrible happened to her; maybe she'd been in a bad car accident and no one had known to reach out to me.
After a while, I got a short email in my inbox from her stating that she was no longer interested in collaborating and would prefer if I did everything on my own. No explanation of what went wrong, no indication that I had done anything specific to make her doubt the quality of my work, just one short email and that was it. No further responses. Her note not only hurt my feelings, but it made me question myself and go back and re-examine every single conversation we had ever had to try to find out if there was something I could have done differently. I never came to any definitive conclusion about why she had reacted this way and made this decision. Two months went by, and I saw her at a grocery store. I waved at her, but she ignored me and walked away. After that, I didn't see her. The project didn't go well. I needed her professional training, insight, and support in order to make the collaboration work. I lost the gig and thousands of dollars.
I thought about what had happened once a month or so for a while, but eventually, I tried to let it go. Three years went by. Then, a few weeks ago, I was traveling and got into a Lyft line, one of those car sharing setups where you are carpooling with someone else, a stranger. But this time, it wasn't a stranger: it was Verónica. I couldn't have been more shocked to see her there, thousands of miles from home, nestled into the backseat of our shared car, tapping away on her phone.
I was so surprised that at first, I didn't know how to respond. I looked away and spent the first minute of the car ride in complete silence because I had been so hurt by my previous attempts to reach out to her and resolve whatever had come between us. I was debating whether or not to acknowledge the awkward silence and had just decided to find a way to start a conversation when suddenly, I felt someone touch my arm. She was reaching across the backseat to me and looking at me with tears in her eyes.
She said, "I need to talk to you about something. I want to apologize for the way I behaved all those years ago. I was trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship and desperately trying to get out of it. I needed to take all of my time and attention and focus exclusively on finding a way to get myself to a happier, healthier place in life. I didn't think I would have the energy to do a good job on our collaboration, and I was too ashamed to admit to you what was really going on. I walked away from that season of my life, and I have found so much happiness. I have a new partner now and even a new son. I have an amazing new job that I love and a wonderful apartment. I'm finally in a better place, and I'm doing well. I have thought about you from time to time — about how much I must have hurt you personally and professionally. I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry."
I sat there in stunned silence as tears welled up in my eyes. I had never been apologized to—not like that. Of course, we all say sorry in our day-to-day lives to apologize for the little social inconveniences we hoist upon our friends, family, and colleagues:
I'm running late for dinner but I'll be there in 3 minutes, so sorry.
Here's that report you asked for...sorry it isn't as complete as we'd like.
Sorry I wasn't able to come to your daughter's birthday party. I had something else going on that evening.
But it's very rare to hear a true apology, a real apology that names a major misstep and action where someone was harmed, feelings were hurt, and relationships were potentially ruined:
I'm sorry I didn't speak up for you when our boss made a sexist joke about you in front of everyone.
I'm sorry I got too high to drive you home from school and made you walk 10 miles in the dark.
I'm sorry I slapped you in the face when I was raising you. As a parent, I should have controlled my temper better.
I'm sorry that when your brother died, I didn't come over to your house or make myself available and call you and check on you.
You never hear apologies like these. Hearing those words from Verónica affected me much more than I could have imagined. All those years, I had wondered what had gone wrong. I'd felt angry and upset with her but had never visualized what I wanted her to do. I never thought of a reasonable outcome for the situation and how it could resolve...maybe I couldn't even imagine a meaningful apology because I'd never seen one, not in life not in school not in my family and not in the workplace. The experience of the apology was incredible. Her sincere tone, the kindness in her eyes, and the grace of her words resolved every inkling of doubt and worry I'd had over years, poof, just like that. in an instant the entire situation was taken care of. Relief and happiness flooded through me. I looked at her and smiled and told her how sad I was to hear what she'd been going through then, that I was glad she was okay now. And I thanked her for having the courage to say those words. Then it was time to get out, and we parted happily and easily.
After that, I spent a lot of time thinking about how much that apology meant to me and started to wonder:
Who was holding a grudge against me?
Who needed an apology from me?
Who had I totally failed to show up for when they needed it the most?
I decided that the next time something really difficult came up in my life, something messy, something sticky and painful, something weird and interpersonal that was so awful to name that it was best left alone that I would try to honor what she had done and make use of my words and my time and my energy and my effort to give someone else the healing that I had experienced after speaking with Verónica.
I got my chance pretty soon after that and remembered that promise to myself, looked at the situation, and found where I had been wrong. I called her up and said, "My friend, the way I behaved was wrong. I hurt your feelings, and it sounds like I made you feel like you weren't valuable. But you ARE valuable to me and I cherish our friendship. I would never want to do anything to harm you. I'm sorry for the way I acted."
To discuss it now, in such simple terms, almost feels silly. We're forced to sorry as children. Most of us learned our cultural manners then. We're socially conditioned to self-correct and to never impose too much. In the Pacific Northwest, especially, many of us were raised to believe that the avoidance of conflict is next to godliness. These two apologies changed my mind about all of that. We have to take time to acknowledge where and when we've messed up. We must prioritize our interpersonal relationships and take difficult actions to salvage them when they have fallen into disarray. Admitting you were wrong can be one of the very hardest things to do. I walked to the edge of that pain, to the pool of uneasiness, and I dove in.
Today's cocktail is called The Reconciliation. It uses traditional herbal ingredients from cultures that have warred over time and done unspeakable things to each other. It marries the scents and flavors of the bounty of the earth— an earth that cares not for our political boundaries, but instead reproduces faithfully in all corners, on both sides of the mountains, on both banks of the rivers. I designed this cocktail to inspire the senses and to give hope to a vision of 2017, one that may offer us a path forward. You can cheers with this cocktail on New Year's Eve with a friend you used to love but have fallen out of touch with. You can make a bottle of this cocktail and leave it on the doorstep of a neighbor you quarreled with over some insignificant noise disturbance. You can serve this cocktail to the love of your life after you have wronged him. You can tell your boss that you are returning a sum you stole from work, that it was a mistake, and name the ways you will work to earn back her trust — and clink a glass in celebration once you have done so.
Cocktails are for gathering. They can best be enjoyed in the physical presence of loved ones. They cannot be enjoyed on the internet. They must be shared in real life. People often refer to cocktails as "liquid courage", but you don't need a drink to have courage to initiate a reconciliation. All it takes is a decision and a spark of bravery. May we all have a little more courage in 2017.
Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice and shake hard until the tin is frosty. Strain into rocks glass with large ice cube.
How to make Winter Syrup:
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