When I was younger, I let my teaching job break my will. I let my relationship break my spirit. I was completely broken and spiritually bankrupt. I had become a person I didn’t recognize and definitely didn’t like.
It was the darkest time of my life.
My escape came in the form of a 12-year-old student who thought it would be funny to smack me. She hit my right shoulder with such force that I had to catch my breath. I looked at her, wide-eyed, and stated the obvious: “You just hit me!”
She sucked her teeth and walked away. A voice inside said, “Now’s the time. Do it. Leave everything. Leave now. This is your chance.”
I entered the principal’s office and said, “I just got hit by a student.” The guidance counselor looked me in the eye and answered, “There’s nothing I can do.”
The voice inside screamed, “You see? Now’s the time!”
I looked back at the counselor and made sure she watched me clock out. As I was putting on my coat, a student in the hall stopped me. “Miss, you leaving?”
“Yes, and I’m never coming back.”
The next day I was hired for a great job. I would help low-income high school students secure funding for college. The only problem was that in my state of mind – spiritually bankrupt, broken, filled with self-loathing – I was incapable of performing well.
So I didn’t and was fired six months later. I didn’t blame my boss. I filed for unemployment and tried to figure out how to heal.
Four years later I finally figured out what true healing was. I was reading the memoir of Tookie Williams, co-founder of the notorious gang the Crips, who was sentenced to the death penalty. While serving time, he renounced his former lifestyle and began publishing anti-gang books. He said he realized true redemption happened when he finally felt at peace with himself. I wondered if I could ever feel at peace with myself about that dark time.
It suddenly occurred to me that one way to get something was to ask for it. I made an immediate decision to find the woman who’d hired and fired me and to ask for her forgiveness. I was on my way to the campus where I worked anyway – what harm could it do? I had nothing to lose.
Say what you need to say
Within 20 minutes I was in her office. She remembered me and invited me to sit down.
After a few minutes of catching up, I told her exactly what I’d been thinking of: that I took full responsibility for my poor work performance from back then. I then explained why it was: I was recovering from my public school work, still reeling from a bad relationship, grieving the loss of my estranged father and in the midst of moving. My spirit and will were broken. I was someone I barely recognized and did not like.
As I explained all this, her face softened. She thanked me for telling her and said she had no idea. She also said she wished she did know, that perhaps the outcome would have been different. I pointed out that she had no way of knowing and that I was responsible for reaching out for help, which I hadn’t done.
The fault lay squarely on me, and I owned it.
She was genuinely touched and let me know that she respected the initiative I took to explain everything. She then told me of a tremendous work opportunity that she thought I would be well-suited to, saying, “I’d love to work with you again, particularly after learning so much about you.”
I thanked her for her generosity of spirit and her acceptance of my apology. I learned a powerful lesson about how redemption works.
I would add to what Williams said about redemption: that allowing others to forgive us lets them do the hard work involved in redeeming us as well. Redemption is as much about making others empowered as it is about making us feel inner peace.