Growing up in my family, I don’t remember hearing anyone say “I’m sorry.” It was unheard of to ask for forgiveness, and apologizing was tantamount to admitting weakness or defeat. Nevertheless, as the youngest, I said “I’m sorry” many times a day as a way of fending off criticism or attack. The cost of this was that I felt a lot of shame. Only in my adult life did I come to see the benefits of genuine apologies and the wisdom of forgiveness.

We have just finished observing Yom Kippur, the holiest and most contemplative day in the Jewish religion. It begins the night before, on what is called Kol Nidre. Prayers asking for collective forgiveness are repeated throughout the evening and the following day. It is a time for reflecting upon all the ways we have transgressed or made mistakes, including hurting someone we love and even perhaps someone we don’t know. The list of possibilities is pages long. Whether we did it or not, we are expected to ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of our community, even if we are not personally guilty.

I used to find this terrifying. But even harder was the related tradition that Paul taught me when our sons were young. Every year during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we spend time together in twos, asking each other’s forgiveness for specific things we have done that might have hurt the other. We begin by saying, “Will you forgive me for…..?”  We end by asking them to tell us if we have forgotten anything. Then we reverse roles.

Childhood had taught me to bury my faults and misdemeanors because I never felt forgiven. So I simply said, “I’m sorry,” hoping to defray attack, and left it at that. I have since realized that saying “I’m sorry” is often used as a way of deflecting a deeper issue. It is easy to say without sincerity.

Asking for forgiveness is something deeper. It requires admitting to and owning one’s mistakes or missteps, and being accountable. Conversely, when I find it hard to forgive someone else, it usually means I need to forgive myself first for something similar.

Of course, I still feel badly if I hurt someone or do something wrong, but I no longer feel plagued by guilt if I am able to admit it to myself and the person I’ve affected, and most importantly, make a decision about how I’ll handle a similar situation next time.. When I am ready to forgive myself I can honestly say “I’m sorry,” and ask for another’s forgiveness more easily and sincerely.


What do you need to forgive yourself for?

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9 Responses to FORGIVENESS

  1. joaneee says:


    You happen to be the loveliest person I could imagine, caring so deeply for others, doing for others, giving others pleasure and joy. Frankly, I cannot even imagine that you would hurt another — and especially as we are at the age when we know that we accomplish more with smiles and kind thoughts, tempered words (if there are times when that is needed). We accomplish so much more with love, with caring. Both break down whatever barriers might have gone up a long time before (which I cannot believe), and a loving conversation, sprinkled with loving stories and hugs, is far better taken — if need be at all.

    I hope I have not been negligent without realizing it with others. As you are, I am sensitive to feelings, and know that warm words and hugs mean more than words in questionable times.

    Love the photo of you, arms outstretched on the ice, waiting for that hug. . so may the first one be from Joan.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Thank you Joan. We all have our shadow side, so I can’t begin to pretend I’m so lovely as you say, but I try. A toast to your sensitivity!

  2. Hi EIleen, You are adept at understanding the whys, the wise and tradition. Wisdom includes saying “I’m sorry” and forgiving. You do not have to say “I’m sorry and you do not have to lighten your heart by forgiving yourself and others. One expects that good judgment carries lots of weight.
    Often, I feel that when I have opinions, thoughts and feelings, tastes, interests that differ, greatly, for good reasons, I might forever be uttering “I’m sorry”. You are a married woman, young in spirit and healthy. Your sons may be taking advantage of their mother because they are proud of you!! Paul cares. Let Paul carry
    the responsibility for forgiving. I have hurts and they were not my doing. I forgave myself, but never wished that all would be so difficult. At least raising my kids was a joy and delight. Moving forward from the role of mother is vague. I take each day at a time… I like to read good writing. One has to enjoy innovation. Last week I attended a worthwhile conference. The sponsors were big names and made me “feel” that people want to REACH OUT and make life work– a rejuvenating day for me.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Glad you had a rejuvenating day at the conference. We humans are meant to be in community. The more ways we can find it the better. More power to you!

  3. Stephanie Koenig says:

    Eileen, I really resonate with the truth of your insight that saying “I’m sorry” can be done kind of in a rote and self-protective way, or can be done in a way where one is truly understanding the other person’s experience, and asking forgiveness for having in some way hurt that person. As much as we might try to not cause harm, it seems inevitable that we do sometimes, and the lovely ritual you describe of sitting with family members and loved ones during the period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and asking for forgiveness honors the truth of this.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Thanks Stephanie. I’m glad to know you resonated with my story of the ritual my family does. Forgiveness is a good way to reconnect with each other.

  4. Tonja Ali says:

    Hi Eileen,
    Beautiful! You’re courage and honesty invites us all to “be.”
    Thank you!

  5. Tonja Ali says:

    I accidentally wrote “you’re courage” but meant
    “your courage.” But when I think about it, “You Are Courage!” So you know what they say, “no such thing as accident!” (SMILE)

  6. eileenrockefeller says:

    Thanks Tonja. As are YOU! Your story still moves me. I think of you and hope that all is going well for you. Blessings.

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