“I’m Sorry” Goes A Long Way Towards Healing


My second grade teacher was a tiny elderly woman named Mrs. Wells who despite her size held a commanding presence in our classroom. She carried a foot long wooden ruler, almost at all times, and wielded it freely in order to get the attention of the class. It was not uncommon for her to strike the top of the desk nearest to her, which often was mine as I sat in the front center row. Needless to say I was never found slumbering in class and she always had my undivided attention. Although she was stern, she also was fair.

One school day after my class had returned from lunch Mrs. Wells came into the class and slammed her ruler on my desk. She had a very angry look on her face and she proceeded to tell us that the first grade teacher, Mrs. Mayer, had informed her that someone from our class had torn down much of the 1st grade bulletin board display that was up in the hallway. Mrs. Wells then demanded to know who from the class had done it. She folded her arms and waited for someone to come forward. But no one did. The seconds seemed like minutes as the classroom was now silent. Mrs. Wells repeated herself and waited again for the guilty party or parties to confess. It was obvious that no confession was forthcoming. The silence became so uncomfortable that  I raised my hand and told her that, although I had not done it, I would be happy to clean up and repair the damage done to Mrs. Mayer’s bulletin board. Mrs. Wells accepted my volunteerism and assigned another young man to help me. As I walked down the hall to repair the bulletin board, I felt proud of myself for being willing to clean up the destructive act of someone else. You could say I was skipping down the hallway to the bulletin board which was directly across from Mrs. Mayer’s classroom.

The door to Mrs. Mayer’s class was closed but the door had a small window in it and I could see Mrs. Mayer in front of her class writing on the board. As my buddy and I started to clean things up, Mrs. Mayer must have seen us through the window and came out. I had barely turned around to see her when she angrily started to scold me. I never had a chance to explain myself because she never gave me an opportunity to speak. She pointed her finger in my face and derided me for being a bad boy and how could I have done such a thing. I don’t remember what the other boy was doing but Mrs. Mayer clearly had singled me out for the verbal thrashing. She finished her tirade and told me to go back to class. I turned and ran down the hallway with tears beginning to flow. As I entered my class Mrs. Wells inquired why I was back so quick and I burst into tears and blubbered out what had happened. I seated myself as Mrs. Wells flew out the classroom toward the first graders room. I don’t know what transpired next but I know that Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Mayer exchanged some heated words. Next thing I know Mrs. Mayer was in front of our class talking to us about responsibility and not being destructive. Even as a little boy I could see and feel that Mrs. Mayer was embarrassed by her actions but that she was not about to apologize to me and the other boy for her misplaced anger. When she left the room I still remember thinking to myself that I didn’t like her because she wouldn’t tell me that she was sorry. She never did, and I never liked her after that experience. I have long since forgiven Mrs. Mayer, but I find it interesting that I have never forgotten the experience. Perhaps it is because of the feelings that rush back into my mind when I relive it. I am sure that the ugly interaction I had with Mrs. Mayer could have been replaced with another; one that could have included an apology and a moment of forgiveness. Instead, I am left with the former, not the latter.

Is it hard for us to say, “I’m sorry?” We certainly don’t say it enough. I find it interesting that throughout my life when I have heard these words, I have always accepted them. Don’t you? In fact, there is a bond that exists with parties that have shared such an interaction.  Marlin K. Jensen of the told this short story:

“Once my father, in the heat and frustration of a humid July afternoon, overreacted to my youthful farming blunders and administered punishment which I felt was in excess of the crime. Later he approached me with an apology and a much-appreciated expression of confidence in my abilities. That humble expression has remained in my memory for more than 40 years.” (Liahona, July 2001, “To Walk Humbly with Thy God”).

As we go through life, let us be humble enough in liberally saying “I’m sorry” and kind enough to say, “I forgive you!” As you can see, the memories of Marlin Jensen towards his Father are sweet, while my memories of Mrs. Mayer still are left unsettled some close to sixty years later.

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