Three (not so) Little Words

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Not my usual, constant chatter-in-the-brain stuff, but what feels more like mulling and simmering over things that I’d always thought my opinions were formed on. Like apologies for instance. (You didn’t really think I meant those three words, did you?)

All my life I’ve always been under the impression that saying ‘I am sorry’ was a sign of weakness of character. Not a nice thing to be under an impression of, but there you have it. Apologies were the hardest thing I could ever think of having to say, coming in a very close second after the Real Three Little Words.

With time, years, age, experience…whatever the latest word for it is, I slowly changed my opinion and realized that apologies are simply a way to admit you’re human (and really, which one of us isn’t?) and to allow yourself a shot at humility. You do something wrong, you admit it, you apologize and then you try your best not to do it again.

I still stand by that opinion, but I think I’ve added a facet to its definition. Apologies I think are also a way to say “I care. A lot.” When you do something that deserves remorse, then it’s usually for one of two reasons: that you’ve infringed upon the rights of another (justice-based) or that you’ve done something that hurt someone whose feelings matter to you even if it wasn’t technically wrong (emotion-based).

Unfairness and injustice are character flaws and sometimes while we develop and nurture our ability to do away with those vices, we inevitably stumble along the way and wrong others. Sometimes, it’s people we wont ever be able to meet or say sorry to. That’s where penance comes in I suppose. We go out of our way to do rights and hopefully balance out the wrongs, but the guilt of it never really leaves…until and unless you get to face the people you need to apologize to and get their forgiveness.

Emotion-based wrongs are so much more complex. And yet so simple to fix, it’s a wonder so many struggle with it. When you hurt someone, the first thing you need to ask yourself is “Do I care?” I don’t mean does it pinch at your conscience, I mean do you really care? If you do, then an apology does not mutate into a way of demeaning yourself or losing a battle or even giving in to the other person, it simply becomes a statement: “I’m hurting because you are, even though I’m the one who caused that hurt to begin with.” Pretty long message to fit into three words, eh? But I think every person who has ever received a sincere apology hears it.

In fact, I think in a lot of cases, people don’t feel angry or abandoned because of the things others do to hurt them, as much as they do because those who hurt them don’t seem to care enough to apologize. To be able to hurt another person and then not feel enough to offer consolation or amends…that’s perhaps the bluntest way to tell that person that they don’t even qualify for the consideration you’d give a random stranger out of mere politeness.

But perhaps the most important thing to realize is that if you’re not inspired to apologize then you’re not emotionally involved. And that is an excellent indicator when repenting (tawbah). Think about it: you live in a world created by God, enjoying amenities provided by Him, with assets given by Him and then still go ahead and abuse every gift He offered you before you even knew to ask for it…and then you don’t even have the decency to realize that and apologize?

That’s the kind of behaviour we gauge when we’re sifting through the people to decide who is worth our respect and who is not. So if it doesn’t cut it for normal social interaction and makes us indignant when ordinary people do it to us, then what does it say when we do the same to God?

And more scary is the fact that if you don’t feel inspired to repent, then that means you’re not emotionally involved with God. You claims of believing in Him, having faith, loving Him and trusting Him are all simply lip-service and haven’t touched your heart. For if they had, you’d have felt the guilt of disappointing Him the moment you disobeyed one of His Laws and immediately felt the need to seek Him out and tell Him how very sorry you are.

I’m hardly in a position to be telling people what to do, but I’d suggest that if there’s anyone you care about that you may have hurt – intentionally or unintentionally – take a few minutes off from whatever it is you’re doing (including reading this) and go tell them you’re sorry. Don’t just say it, mean it and then do something to make amends. You have no idea what that will mean to them, trust me.

And then tonight, sometime after the silence of sleep descends in your home, find yourself a quite spot and do the same with God.

I truly believe that if ever there was a way to lighten the burdens that hang heavy over all our souls…sincere apologies would be it.



Always There

Many years ago, I remember standing alone on a balcony with only the velvet darkness of a moonless night and the sounds of the crashing ocean waves nearby for company. It was a clear night where every star sparkled in tiny, crisp twinkles as if to say “Look at me! Look at me!”

And I looked…and looked and looked for I don’t know how long. Standing in the darkness, I wondered who else was gazing at the same sky or would be when the sun set in their part of the world. I wondered how many had looked up and been unable to look away out of sheer speechless wonderment. How can little pinpoints of light have so much of an effect on the human soul?

I know the first time I saw the stars between the stars – the little background, paler twinklers that we tend not to see because of the brighter artificial lighting that surrounds us – the first time I turned off all the lights and stared up until the crick in my neck faded away and as in tandem the whole night sky came alive with all those little lights…I ceased to exist.

If you’ve never seen that, then go out tonight and look. Stand out there until you begin to see that it’s not stars that are sprinkled across the night sky, but the night sky that tries to seep out from a bed of stars spread out in much the same way the grains of sand are spread out on a beach.

The night often comes back to me because I remember a sense of both loneliness and belonging washing over me. It was as if I was part of some secret but one that no one ever spoke about and so you kept it in your heart and couldn’t share it. I wondered if there was anyone who understood that feeling, who was thinking the same thoughts and while I knew there were definitely thousands of ‘anyone’s out there, I also knew none of us would probably ever meet each other and if we did, we wouldn’t recognize each other in the harsh light of day.

I haven’t looked at the sky for many, many days, but I did today. And it blew me away all over again. As I’m typing the last folds of the cloak of that sense of lonely-belonging are wrapping themselves around me. It’s not a bad feeling for a natural pessimist like me.

In fact, it feels like the universe is gently scolding me for forgetting that there are precious few things you can rely on in life. Like stars. Stars will be there to the end of time, always twinkling, always sparkling, always amazing you. Every evening, when the sun sets, they’re out there, just being there for you. Steady, stable and constant.

Maybe that’s why even thought it’s been years since I stopped and looked at them again, they said the same things they did before and whispered the same messages again – because stars don’t lie.

bint Ali