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(HOST) An apology can be a powerful healing agent. Commentator Caleb Daniloff confesses that he is finding out first-hand this is as true for the offender as for the victim.

(DANILOFF) A friend of mine, Glenn, recently woke in the middle of the night to find two burglars in his house. Despite the panic gripping his chest, he managed to scare them off. Footprints in the snow quickly helped police track them down. Turns out they were a pair of teenagers from the neighborhood.

Because of their ages, the case was taken over by the juvenile justice system and subsequent details kept confidential, even from Glenn. The state’s attorney’s office offered to help arrange some kind of compensation. “What I want,” Glenn said, “is a face-to-face apology.”

“If you got that apology, would you forgive them?” I asked. He said he didn’t know. It would depend on what they said and how they said it. I asked if an apology would restore his sense of ease. He said it would help. Glenn has not yet received that apology. And he’s still a little unsettled. Coming home to a light left on has taken on ominous new meaning. He checks the doors regularly.

I’ve been thinking about apologies a lot these days. I’m in the midst of making my own. For most of my twenties, I was a bad drunk, a miserable drunk, an emotional wrecking ball. Many offenses took place years ago. Some are blacked out, others misted over by time. It’s tricky, unfamiliar terrain. I often ask myself: is it selfish to poke at old wounds, in some cases many years after the fact? Perhaps the corrosiveness of guilt is a just sentence – troubled thoughts, troubled dreams. Being haunted is the least you deserve.

Whenever I start thinking that way, I remember an alcoholic classmate in college. After years of abusive drinking, he straightened his life out. He moved out of state, got married and had kids. He was ten years sober when he climbed to the attic one day and shot himself. I’ve always wondered whether his ghosts got him before he’d made peace, that he was owned by his past and never the other way around.

And so I press on. I’m finding that the need to express remorse can be as profound as the need to hear it. When executed properly, the apology can make for a powerful, intimate exchange between two people. Though it comprises mere words, so many breaths from the body, they are words at their most potent and pivotal.

For the offender, the apology requires humility and a certain amount of faith. You must be prepared to have your teeth broken. You’re offering someone power over you – to forgive, or to tear you apart. But by steeling yourself to the task, you give yourself a gift. The flushing of ghosts. Toothless or intact, you are changed, your burden lightened. It’s human transaction at its purest, and perhaps its highest.

As I discussed all this with Glenn, he surprised me by admitting he’s sometimes nagged by guilt over behavior more than forty years old. “There was this girl in elementary school we all used to pick on pretty bad…” he started.

As he spoke, it occurred to me that the memory of pain, of wounds, has arms far longer than joy and happiness. Whether those arms embrace or strangle is ultimately up to us.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.

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