Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Power of Apology -- "This is How it Works"

During World Peace and Prayer Day events this week, I was struck by the transforming beauty of Anneka Johnson's apology on behalf of her ancestor's role in the largest mass execution in US history (called the Dakota 38).  It reminded me of when my son Caleb taught a big lesson about apologies to the student athletes at the school where I have worked part time in sports medicine. 

This school community has been so gracious to me as they have allowed me to respond to disaster relief calls and opportunities to serve at three Winter Olympics and to go serve as a mediator as long as I have subcontracted out work while I would be away.  When I was pregnant, several moms hosted a baby shower for me which included scheduling themselves as baby sitters on site while I would work to allow me to keep my job without putting my child in daycare.

At half time of football games or between soccer matches I'd get precious Mommy time with my son and he has become a fixture of my medical practice.  As Caleb turns seven next week I am in awe of how quickly time has marched on.  He's grown up around sports, and like me, the year is measured by which sports we are attending.  I picture him asleep in the baseball bat bag when he was almost a year old...sitting in the ice cooler...falling asleep on the hockey bus...stacking athletic tape in my office...wearing my stethescope and walking with it dragging on the floor... meeting some of the must fun and crazy hockey fans in the world at the Olympics in Torino and Vancouver games.
His first word was "puck" and he quickly understood how to count change because he learned about quarters from football.  He became the darling of the girls basketball state tournament (photo above).  He's been carried around by the hockey team during dryland relay races and has spent slow rainy days with me in the dugout chewing sunflower seeds.   He has high-fived more athletes than anyone I know and has been hugged by dozens of cheerleaders.  Not many moms get to raise their children at work with them but Caleb has been there almost every step of the way in my sports medicine profession and my work as a neutral mediator. And yes we're saving for his therapy.  Ha!
     During World Peace and Prayer Day she presented a monologue from the perspective of a settler who vouched for her care and who pleaded that Chakpe (pronounced Shock-pee) not be found guilty.  After her presentation she offered an apology that is moving just to write about today. 
      Her apology reminds me of when my nearly three year old son gave a lecture to the school's track team about "how things work."  During my clinic hours at the school I'd bring toys for him to play with in my office .  On one April day he said some of the "children" had taken his toy bat and ran away with it without asking.  After much searching, the broken soft-sided bat was found in the trashcan of the boys locker room.  A small toy + teen hands = destroyed toy and teachable moment.  My son's tiny frame walked out into the gym to where the track team was stretching and with a bold voice he addressed the teens: "This is not how it works.  First, you ask to borrow toys.  Then I would say 'sure' because they aren't really mine.  God just lets me use them.  Then if you break a toy you say 'I'm sorry.' Then because Jesus forgives me, I forgive you.  Then we hug.  Then we play.  THAT's how it works.  Any questions?"
     Although his boldness was unexpected, I'm still not surprised at his recitation because that's exactly how Ross and I had been teaching him with this recital of words that he had written on his heart.  Simple lessons: 1) Ask to borrow things 2) Be gracious and generous because we are to be stewards of the things we have  3) Quickly fess up when you mess things up/break things/make mistakes 4) Genuinely apologize 5) Forgive as you have been forgiven 6) Make it right, then hug. 7) Play together again.  Be careful what you teach children because they might actually believe you and hold you to it! I think of all the times I've heard him teaching adults about how to mend relationships and build goodwill.  I think of all the times that he has reminded me.  He's more of a peace ambassador than I am some days.

As I process the miracle of 2011 World Peace and Prayer Day now that the dust has cleared, I see that Anneka Johnson simply employed the process steps my son Caleb articulated so clearly several years ago.  She is a lineal descendent of a United States soldier who participated in killing the Dakota 38 in 1862 near the conclusion of a war that started because people didn't follow simple lessons #1 to #3 above.  Nearly one hundred and fifty years later in 2011 she chose to offer a genuine apology that many Dakota never believed would come from anyone, let alone a teenage year old girl with a courageous heart.
     First she acknowledged the history of what happened to those who were harmed and went further to acknowledge her ancestor's role in that injustice.  Then she simply genuinely said "The United States was wrong to do this to you.  My family was wrong.  I'm deeply sorry."         After her family went through a lengthy fire ceremony where her ancestor's strings of guilt were ceremonially cut away from them, she presented her monologue in front of Chief Arvol Looking Horse and other tribal leaders, elders and lineal descendants of the Dakota.  Dressed in a period costume she boldly stood in front of a crowd of American Indians and guests to offer words of apology.  And the response was just as moving as her presentation.  I saw elders shutter and sigh as a huge weight was lifted.  One spiritual leader who is always strong and bold was moved to tears sitting speechless.  Then he warmly came and offered her family genuine forgiveness.  This was followed by many hugs, many tears and restoration. And it was moving for everyone present, whether or not they had any direct connection to this history.  We were witnesses to something remarkable and a story that I will tell over and over and over.  It was one of the most powerful poignant moments I've ever experienced.

The moment was transformational.   And that brings me back to the story of when the track team heard my son explain "how it works."   Whether or not the teenagers listening to my son share "how it works" had any part in taking Caleb's bat, the healing process that followed was a transforming moment that softened all of us witnessing this precious glimpse of heaven, peace and healing.  Experiencing this moment last week was a good reminder of "how it works" and a personal challenge to better implement what I've been teaching Caleb...