Post 115

You Call That a What? Reflections on Apologies,
Confession and Birthday Greetings

Last I heard, the way to wish someone a Happy Birthday was to say, “Happy Birthday.” If you want to get fancy, you do it like this: “Happy Birthday, Rufus!”

Happy Anniversary is really quite similar. It’s true, the English language can be complicated, but this part isn’t. You say, “Happy Anniversary, Rover!”

And while I’m at it, last I heard, the way to apologize to someone is to say, “I’m sorry.” If the reason for your apology could be unclear to the recipient, then you say “I’m sorry for breaking your tea cup.” You can add “your Highness” if you really did have tea with the queen and you did break her china. (As for me, I can’t say I did. The closest I came was stopping at Dairy Queen, and later there was some thought of ordering in from Royal Pizza, but I didn’t.) But don’t add the “your Highness” part otherwise – it’ll sound rather sarcastic. That would undo the apology, as a matter of fact. Some words can have that effect.

But anyway, apologies are best kept quite short. Otherwise, you’ll notice that the apology disappears as the word-count increases. By the time you’ve reached the end, the apology which either never actually surfaced or which made a vague appearance has been rationalized and apportioned away. I have some beauties that I could show you if I cared. I am in fact the proud recipient of a number of variations on what could be called The Apology, but which don’t quite deserve the name. Indeed, they are apology in name only.

Ah, you think I am being harsh.

I would apologize for that, but I don’t feel sorry, so I, um, won’t.

That’s another thing.

I don’t apologize
as a matter of form.

Someone, who was once a non-participant in a discussion, once gave me some unsolicited advice afterwards. She pointed out that Q (the person I was discussing things with) had apologized. This was, arguably, a Social Cue. Apparently, arguably, it had become My Turn to Apologize Too. And apparently, arguably, I had MISSED it. What did I do instead? I had told Q there was no need for Q to apologize. That’s what I did. (Didn’t apologize myself.)

I quote from Non-Participant’s email to me:

“[M]y understanding of social conventions is that when someone offers an apology they might be doing so to sincerely apologize and that is all. But they also might still sincerely mean their apology and also perhaps be hoping to elicit an apology from the other party. An apology can sometimes be just a simple one-way apology but it can be an invitation to a two-way apology.

Your response to Q’s apology is below (some parts deleted)

“From what I can tell, you have nothing to apologize for

I don’t feel offended in the least, and I don’t feel attacked either.”

Your response is matter of fact and to the point and blunt. I agree with you that Q didn’t need to apologize and I don’t really think that you needed to apologize either. You didn’t feel offended or attacked and there was no need for her to apologize. However, this would have been a good spot to offer an apology back in kind.

. . . [different email – more Unsolicited Advice:]

The only aspect that I think you missed is when Q apologized to you in an email. It was a missed opportunity to smooth things over and simply say “I’m sorry if you read my email in a way that I didn’t intend.”


I don’t apologize unless I’m sorry.

I’m still not sorry for what I wrote. Clear conscience. No pain. (And clear email in the first place, too, for the record.)

Nowadays we say ‘sorry’ way too often. We say it when we aren’t the least bit sorry. We say it when we have not a drop of sorrow in our hearts. We don’t even know what sorry feels like. We don’t know what it means to really repent of our actions or our words. When you really feel sorry, it hurts. It hurts you on the inside, and you really, really wish you hadn’t done something or said something. Alternatively, you really, really wish you had done something or said something.

That’s what sorry feels like, and so that’s when you say it. Not the other times. No, it’s not a phrase you throw around whenever and wherever, like some handy lip balm. No way.

When we are sorry for our sins, we really, really wish we hadn’t committed them. We wish we could jump into a time machine and go back and live that situation over again, in a way which is honourable and good and heroic and beautiful. We know we could have done better and a part of us dies inside knowing we’ve hurt someone else, and that God watched us decide

to do, think and say what was worse.

(I’ll take Barrabas, yes please, not the Word.)

That’s what sorry means.

Don’t waste it.

Don’t say it just to smooth over some trivial social situation. Don’t say it to ‘look good’ in front of others. (The insincerity will show through.)

Don’t say it because ‘it’s the thing to do.’ (The insincerity will show through.)

Don’t say it because it’ll get you through. (The insincerity will show through.)

Say it only when

You mean it.

Then say it like this:

“I’m sorry.”

(It will be obvious when you mean it.)

When you go to Confession (= Reconciliation – same thing) you consider what you’ve done in your life since the last confession. A good priest once said to me, don’t worry about remembering everything; the main things will bubble to the top. Then you describe those things, rather simply, but enough so that the priest will know what on earth you’re talking about. Don’t justify and don’t blither and blather (remember: the higher the word-count, the less you’re probably actually repentant) – no. Be direct. Own it. Say you did it. The priest has heard it all a million times before. Your sins aren’t, ahem, all that unique. You’re unique but your sins fit a mold. Lying, cheating, competing. You flatter yourself if you think that you’ve come up with some great new way to do a wrong thing. All your bad acts have the same inspiration as the bad acts committed by everyone else in this line. Usually, it all began with some lie.

Be sorry for that. Be sorry that you could have chosen better, but you didn’t.

You dropped the ball, on purpose. You let it fall, like that (accidents don’t count).

Then instead of stooping to pick up the pieces, you watched the ball

Continue to roll

(You could have stopped it)

Across the parking lot

(A second chance still)

Over the hill

(It’s going, going,)


So, um.


Now you come back.

Good for you.

Welcome back.


Begin again.

Fresh start.

You blew it.

You knew it.

You know it.


start again.

Begin anew


This sacrament

Like this:

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

“It has been about 4 weeks / 4 months / 4 years / 4 decades since my last confession.”

And so on and so forth.

A sacrament which is


For the Brave.

Oh yeah.

Don’t mock it,



If you can’t

Do it



For the Brave.

Don’t snub it,



If you ain’t

Done it


It’s as Simple and as Difficult as

Telling the Truth

Be Ruthless

On yourself

Be honest

With the priest

Call it like it is

Say it like it was

What you really did

What you really wanted

You wanted your ‘best friend’ to fail?

Then say it.

It’s okay.

Say it out loud.

Say it to the priest.

(The screen’s there

He won’t see you.)

Be sorry.






Ah yes,

Where was I?

Ah yes.

It was all about sorry and birthdays and sorry birthday ‘greetings.’

This is somewhat funny.

So I thought I would share.

It brought a smile to my face.

But not the way the sender intended.

(More the ha-ha, wry, get-a-load-of-this kind.)

It’s my special

Post-birthday gift to you,

Attentive reader.

A transcript I made

of an actual voice-mail

Message I got

Let’s call this:

How Not to Leave

A Birthday Greeting:

(I was tempted to annotate it, but I’ll leave that to you.)



Hi Mena
It’s J calling
I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday
We know that it is your birthday
In fact
(heh heh)
K was kind enough to call last night to make sure we didn’t forget
But, but
D had remembered
And of course
We were planning to call you
on your birthday
we hope it’s a very happy one for you
hope everything’s going well there for you
and everyone
and hope to talk with you maybe either later today
or tomorrow
and let-me-just-hand-the-phone-to-D-she-wants-to-add-her-things-but-again
happy birthday from me

Hi Mena
It’s D here
We are wishing you a happy birthday and as J has said
You’ll probably hear from K on the weekend because he gets home so late
He’s really busy these days but um you know he wouldn’t want to call you late at night when people have gone to bed.
So you might hear from him on the weekend if he doesn’t get a chance to call you today
I’ve appreciated the gift cards that you sent. We’ve used one but we still have one on reserve from my birthday a couple years ago
just wanted to acknowledge that we’re remembering you and thinking of you today.
Take care.