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November 7, 2013
This is Not a Stone
I Am So Sorry
by Hannah Bird

Two of my children were brought home tonight by the sheriff. That is no mom’s best day. But by the time they fell out of that SUV, my 9- and 10-year-old had been missing long enough that I wasn’t even mad.

There are stages of “I don’t know where my kid is.” At first you are annoyed. And then mad. Then there is a terror that exceeds all the words I know. But I didn’t raise any fools. My kids waited (unintentionally) until I was well past “I am going to kill them” and fully immersed in “I will do anything.” They can have chocolate milk and cookies for every meal. They don’t have to do their Latin. I will take them to a Miley Cyrus concert if they want. I’ll just blindfold them. They can have anything. Just please, please, let them come home.

It should be noted that while my children caused quite a stir, they had no bad intent. They were going on a little adventure. And yes, they forgot to ask and tell me where they were going. But what they meant to do was something else entirely.

They were terrified when night was setting in and they were still far from home. They got more terrified when the deputy stopped them. By the time they pulled up in the driveway they were practically hysterical. As was I.

The first thing my daughter said was, “I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?” There was much hugging, of course. But we did spend a minute discussing that one of the ways you can tell something was a bad idea is that it ended in the back of a police car.

My kids have apologized over and over. They got scared badly. I am quite sure they mean it. I don’t have a single breath of anger in me. I know that they did not mean this.

But tomorrow, they will spend their weekly movie time baking cookies that they will not eat (I know I said they could have cookies and milk at every meal, but we say weird things under duress). They will get to take cookies and an apology to those that worried and looked for them.

It’s not because they are in trouble. They aren’t. But because they made a choice that was less that who they (and I) want them to be.

If I say, “They have suffered enough,” they stay here. They stay kids that made a bad choice. But if they apologize they get the chance to be kids who know better.

They destroyed their own trust and independence. Apologizing lets them take responsibility. They made themselves helpless. Apologizing gives them power. Even over themselves. It defines and reclaims the differences between what happened and what we believe is right. It lets what we did not be all that we are.

Several years ago I got one of those heart-stopping calls. We have a family friend who long since surpassed friend and became just family. She is my son’s second mother. His horrible first year she was right in the trenches with me whenever he needed her. She is each of my kids’ greatest fan and defender. They refer to her as the Bonmother.

The call was from the hospital. She had been in an accident. We are all of her family in this area, so they called us. My husband and I drove to the hospital immediately. We told ourselves that if she could remember our names and tell them to call, she couldn’t be that badly off.

When I walked into that ER room, I also had a terror that exceeds all the words that I know. She was broken literally from head to toe. She was not lucid. Her brilliant mind would not serve her up the right words. She was so confused. The damage was too massive to list.

Even worse, behind another curtain in that room lay another beautiful friend, her cheerful face covered with a sheet. These two women had been crossing a street in a crosswalk on the way to a concert. They were struck by a driver. Our friend died on impact.

What followed was a blur of miserable situations and heartbreaking moments.  They stabilized the Bonmother in hopes that she would be strong enough for surgery. Despite her fear and pain she was her adamant self. She assigned my husband and me power of attorney. I would take the first shift. My husband would take charge of her after the surgery. I sat in that hospital room all night.

It is a funny thing about getting a knock on the head. It seemed to give her a five-minute loop. Later it lengthened to 15 minutes. She would almost doze off and then wake with a start. She would ask why she was so sick. I explained the accident again and again and again. All night long. All night long, and for weeks after I heard, “Why did he run me down? He just ran me down in the road.”

And he had. He hadn’t meant to. He was doing something else entirely. Causing harm was the last thing on his mind as he headed down that darkening street. But he did.

Almost immediately it began. The investigating officer mentioned that the driver was suffering to and we (the community) needed to forgive. I am a big fan of forgiveness. But I kind of wanted the accident investigated first. Visitors would remind us that they were sure the driver had it just as bad.

Still her questions came. “Had he called?” No. “Did he know he hurt her?” Yes. “Why didn’t he call?” I don’t know. And we would start all over again. “Why did he run me down in the road?”

She had a right to wonder. The most private woman in the world was now dependent on strangers for the most intimate of care. It was a nightmare for her. She would get confused and try to get up even though she couldn’t. She would argue with me and tell people I was mean. She could not remember the doctors’ orders. She could not remember that we had talked about this five minutes ago. She was so broken.

Another friend of ours had set up a blog so that we could share what was happening. One night after we had a really bad day I wrote on the blog that one of the things that was really hard was that someone had done this. Our Bonmother needed to hear him say that he cared that she was broken. I was promptly excoriated for my unforgiving attitude. Again I was reminded that he suffered too. He had suffered enough.

The cynic in me thinks it is really easy to extend forgiveness when we are not the ones peeing through a tube. Her shattered pelvis probably kept him on her mind. But people were so anxious to be forgiving. They felt it was the right thing to do.

The accident has passed now. Those are memories that we wince and laugh at. Her legs are not strong. She is different now. She is still brilliant. She conducted her doctoral research from the nursing home bed. She is even more adamant. And though we would not have thought it possible, even more precious.

But he never did apologize. In our tiny community it would have been easy enough to do. But neither she nor the family of our sweet friend that was killed ever heard from him.

Despite the scars and lingering pain the Bonmother has of course forgiven him. Anything else would have been unthinkable to her. But they both missed out. He missed out on being forgiven. He missed out on taking responsibility. He missed out on becoming more than a man who ran two women down in the street. She missed out on the chance to feel like her pain mattered.

Like geometry, there is no royal road to forgiveness. We have to take responsibility. We have to acknowledge how we have hurt others. It is not a punishment. It is a gift. It is an opportunity to set that one awful moment down and begin again.

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