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Saying Sorry & Black Olive Tapenade

an icicle melts
in my mitten
I say I’m sorry

I wrote the above haiku as part of a text for a picture book, tiny shivers. The image of cold and resistance and a gradual, but not necessarily comfortable, yielding captures the way I felt as a child when I knew I’d done something wrong, had behaved badly, and was expected to apologise. I think it still does.

Sometimes it’s even difficult for me to accept I was wrong in the first place. I have an automatic defensive reaction that propels me to point out, with sound reasons and logic of course, what the other person didn’t understand, how they might have misinterpreted my words, my actions.

But alongside my clear sense of righteousness there’s a physical tension in the place just below my collar-bone, and even more strongly in my solar-plexus, which I’m pretty sure represents my stubborn little ego not wanting to humble itself. Because saying sorry, really saying sorry properly and meaning it, takes a lot of humility.

Why is it so difficult? Are we born with the desire to protect ourselves and see apologising as tantamount to admitting weakness and vulnerability, as having to relinquish personal power to someone else? Is there a way we can teach kids how to make apologies with a positive frame of mind so it feels easier, and just and right, later in life?

If you grew up in the 60s and early 70s you'd have seen the film ‘Love Story’ and will remember Ryan O’Neal saying to Ali McGraw, ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’. It’s one of those sayings that has a ring of truth to it,  or perhaps it seemed like that to me in the overwhelmingly heart-breaking context of the film (well, I was only 13), but, in fact, if we love someone and hurt them, deliberately or unintentionally, shouldn’t that make us even more ready to apologise? But it can, strangely, feel more difficult to say sorry to family than to people I'm less intimate with.

I am sorry. I was wrong. What can I do to fix this? I’ll do my best to never do this again. Will you forgive me? Simple sentences and questions whose language we might vary according to how we express ourselves, although I'd hope that not all of my mistakes would demand all five of them to make a sincere apology.

Last week when Tony and I were at the Bar Crystal in Juan les Pins, over a glass of rosé wine and the complimentary black olive tapenade they serve during the early evening, he told me he’d felt hurt by what seemed like my complete lack of enthusiasm for a project he’s currently working on. With hindsight ‘I’m sorry’ would have been such an easy thing to have said.

Black Olive Tapenade

  • a handful of pitted black olives (Crespo’s my favourite brand)
  • half a garlic clove
  • two anchovy fillets (or a level teaspoon of anchoïade – anchovy paste)
  • chopped coriander or parsley, to taste
  • lemon juice, also to taste
  • about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
I use a stainless steel vegetable and herb chopper for the olives, garlic, anchovies and herbs in turn, and then mix everything with the oil and lemon juice afterwards but if you have a food processor you could do it all at once. But don’t make it into a mush. You want a little bit of texture. A bit like an apology – too smooth and it’s just not convincing.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about ice.
  2. Write about an argument you could have with one particular part of your body.
  3. Write about loving someone.
  4. Write a list of questions you don’t know the answers to.
  5. Write a list of things you are sorry about.

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