When I was organizing for the first United States Social Forum, I sent an email out in a somewhat public forum that was very hurtful to someone who I now count as a dear dear friend and confidant.
At the time, I was a mess. I had spent the previous 6 months working 60 hour weeks - 20 of which were volunteer hours, and the remaining 40 my day job. I was moving across the country for work and to assist the USSF on the ground in the few weeks that preceded it. The email was written from my parent's house where I was sleeping on the screened-in porch on a cot, and sharing living-space with my parents, my sister, and her (adorable) 2 year old twin sons. Everything I owned was in the back of my beat-up toyota truck, and the week ahead of me would include starting my new job remotely, traveling to DC for 3 days of meetings for the Social Forum, and driving for 3 days to finish my move to Atlanta where I only had one friend.
At any rate, I sent an email through a somewhat public forum in response to a very sweetly worded request for assistance from a colleague. I knew at the time that I should not send it, but somehow felt compelled and did anyhow. There are two things that have become very clear to me in the years after sending that email.
The first is that the person who figures out a plugin that automatically detects stressful emails and quarantines them for 24 hours before sending is going to make some serious money.
The second thing that has become clear to me is that, even in retrospect and after having experienced loosing an unquantifiable measure of social capital from my peers as a result of that email, I would not take it back.
I remember that it took about 45 minutes for the first wave of responses to come.
At the time I thought that they felt like echoes for words I did not want to hear coming back. One was a very well written defense of the woman I had directed my response towards from a member of the larger body that the email was sent to. The other was a call from a member of the smaller team I was on who made it clear that I had made a big mistake.
Over a year afterwards, I heard the story retold by someone who, at the time the email was sent I did not know, but who has become very important to me since. I realized in hearing her tell the story, that although this person loves me very much, there is an extent to which that email will always leave it's impression in her account of me. It is something that can make me very sad to think about, even now.
If you ask any of my girlfriends, they will tell you that if there is one thing that I have become good at it's putting together a good apology. The kind of apology that makes a person feel heard, and seen and like their pain has been witnessed fully. The kind of apology that puts the person receiving it in touch with their own vulnerability.
I told her that if I had received the email I sent, I would have felt betrayed, and tragically unappreciated. I told her that when I think about how she must have felt - knowing what I do now about who she is, and what a sweet and graceful and loving force that she is and has worked so hard to become in this world - that it makes me feel sick inside. I asked for her forgiveness.
There is something about coming face to face with our imperfections that keeps us honest. The quality of a heart-felt, holy-shit-did-i-ever-fuck-up humility is an acquired taste - but anyone who has had the fortune to acquire the taste will tell you that it is exquisite. Transformative, and strangely worth the negative impacts that these kinds of mistakes can generate.
Donald Vidrine is the 'company man' who, on behalf of global share holders, overruled the advise of the TRANSOCEAN workers this past Earth Day and caused the single largest man-made oil spill in the history of the world. This is a man who was acting as a conduit for something much bigger (and maybe sadder) than himself. A man who was carrying out orders that were sanctioned by a system that we have each individually given our consent to. In the newspaper, I read that he was unable to appear in court to testify because of health concerns. It occurred to me in reading about his health, and imagining the immense pressure he is feeling, that the one thing I can do to help in this disaster is to tell on myself. To own my part. To ask for forgiveness.
Are we not, after all, a chaotic collection of individual wills? Are we not a somewhat disorganized hive? Can forgiveness and the energy it generates jump from person to person regardless of the nature of the misgiving and regardless of who done it?
For better or worse, are we not a super-real dominoes chain-reaction beyond any of our wildest imaginations? Like the butterfly in China that causes a hurricane in the Gulf, can I ask forgiveness for writing a shitty email in 2007 and gain redemption for Donald Vidrine on the most sorrowful and disappointing day of his life in 2010?
For Donald's sake, and the sake of us all, I hope so.