The Long Process of Making Amends

I think the trick to dealing with terrible stuff in your past is to own it.

Virginia Governor Northam wouldn’t be in the fix he’s in if he had Xeroxed the page from his yearbook, kept it in his wallet, and pulled it out every chance he had to talk about race, racism, white privilege, and arrogance.

He could have said, “I did this. At the time, I felt that it was okay to do it. It was only later that I figured it out and I’m here to talk about me then and me now.”

I would have listened.

I’ve never been in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) but I know people who have so I’m tuned in to the notion of making amends (Steps 8 and 9 in the 12-step program).

Governor Northam could have spent the entire time between his medical school yearbook’s publication and last week making amends for participating in a blackface/KKK event memorialized in a photo which he now disputes included him even though it’s sitting right next to his graduation picture in the yearbook. Quite an editing error, I’d say.

But he didn’t do that.

He pretended like what was in the yearbook didn’t matter. He ran for office, asked for support, got others to mobilize the substantial black vote in Virginia, and never once mentioned that he’d had this awful behavior in his past. Two explanations for this oversight: either he thought no one would ever find his yearbook or he thought it didn’t matter. In either contingency, he overestimated himself and underestimated others.

Think how differently this whole mess would have played out had the dear Governor decided long ago to make amends.

When a recovering alcoholic makes amends, he is really doing three things. First, he is owning his behavior. Even if he doesn’t remember it, even if he was blacked out at the time, even if he knows he wronged someone only from the dreams of his now-sober sleep, he is claiming his own deeds. That takes great honesty.

Second, by his apology and his efforts to make amends, a recovering alcoholic is validating the distress he caused others. The acknowledgement of the pain one has caused has great meaning to the people who were injured. “Thank you, it’s not nothing that you wrecked my car, punched out my brother, and retched all over my wedding gown.” It takes courage to acknowledge and apologize directly to the persons one has harmed. It’s humbling, maybe humiliating, and then it’s righteous.

And last, owning up to one’s past and making amends reminds everyone of this one essential truth in life: Redemption is possible. It has to be or we’re all sunk. There is nothing greater, nothing more impressive than someone who has seen the error of his ways and now spreads that word to folks hiding their own failings. It’s powerful.

It isn’t the photograph that has disqualified Governor Northam from holding office. It’s what he has done since the moment he opened his yearbook and saw the photograph sitting there next to his yearbook picture. He had a choice right then and again at every college reunion, every walk down memory lane, every time he pulled the yearbook off the shelf to show to his colleagues, to his children, to make amends and be an example of change and progress.

That wasn’t his choice, though. And so it’s right to expect him to resign. Now he will have the time he needs to understand the damage he caused and begin to make amends. I wish him well in that long process.

Lying Dogs Both

When Hillary Clinton walked with her daughter and her bad boy husband across the White House lawn to a waiting helicopter that would take them to hide in the woods of Camp David after the preposterous Monica Lewinsky news came out, every woman in America wanted to be in her head.

What exactly was she going to do to Bubba?

What punishment would be exacted? What price would she demand for not kicking his ass into next year? How tired was she of her husband’s infidelity and his remarkable ability to smile and glib his way through embarrassing times? We don’t know. But we can guess that she followed the adage of ‘don’t get mad, get even.’

She did that, not by lining up her own little crew of willing interns, but by running for the Senate and then President and forcing the mister to be man-in-waiting. Now Bill had to fold his hands and look adoringly while his wife made the big speeches. I loved watching this because, at the time, I thought Bill Clinton was the biggest dog in the universe – not only for messing around with an intern, especially the part about it happening while he was conducting the country’s business – but lying about it.

It’s all about the lying.

Not everybody has the incredible ability to lie right to people’s faces. Look someone in the eye and just straight up lie. Many people are able to obfuscate, as Bill Clinton tried to do when he was parsing the word ‘it’ and deciding that not having sexual intercourse was synonymous with not having sex at all. That stuff that was going on under his desk? Just a few steps up, or down, from a handshake, right?

So earlier this week, when Major League Baseball suspended Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun for 65 games, basically the rest of the season, for doping, we all became Hillary.

This guy, an MVP, a player who put a very small market ball club on the national map, well, he lied. He stood on the field at the Brewer’s spring training facility in Maryvale, Arizona, put his hand on his heart and swore to a crowd of reporters that he had never doped. We believed him. Even though his explanation was farfetched, we believed him. Even when more and more evidence piled up, we believed him. And then he accepted the 65-game suspension (the equivalent of an admission of guilt).

We were duped just like Hillary. Lied to in the most public way. Oh sure, a fan’s relationship to a famous player is nothing like a marriage. And, sure, the way Bill Clinton lied to the country and his wife was way worse than some ball player lying to fans. But still, I am feeling very wronged.

What’s my revenge? If I decide not to get mad but to get even, what is it I do?

“Ryan Braun is dead to me,” I said to my husband as we watched a new player take Braun’s left field position at last week’s Brewers game against the Padres. “Dead.”

It’s not the doping, although it baffles me why an elite and very smart athlete would risk all for another few points on his batting average. It also baffled me why the President of the United States would trust his sexual life to a twenty-something intern with the discretion of a chimpanzee. I add these things to a long list of things I just don’t get. It’s not the original sin. It’s the looking straight at the camera, straight at me, and lying like a complete innocent.

Bill Clinton rehabilitated himself so well that I now adore him. He’s smart, clever, insanely charming, doing good deeds, sings, and he’s terribly cute, especially for people in my demographic. No wonder Hillary couldn’t bring herself to toss him. Now what offended me so much when he was President seems oh, I don’t know, who doesn’t like a guy who’s a bit of a dog, right?

The galling feeling of having been lied to has a very long shelf life but it does fade with time. Bill Clinton spent his 40 years in the desert, raising money for good causes, hanging out with the sweet old first President Bush. He capped everything off with his lovable humility show as the potential First Gentleman. Ryan Braun could learn a thing or do.

It could be a long process but he could make us love him again.

Thank you, John Edwards

He did so many things wrong and today he finally did something right.  He owned up.  He said he had sinned and that no one was responsible but him.  Maybe it was a ploy.  I am a sucker for apologies and am hooked on the notion of redemption and starting over so I’d be fair game for a good con especially by a handsome guy.

But he looked different to me today.  Not so handsome.  Worn.  His tie showing at the bottom of his buttoned jacket reminded me of the guys who get dressed up for a wedding having forgotten how to tie a tie to the right length.  A little bit of his inner ‘hick’ seemed to be showing through.

I mentioned all this to my husband who, naturally, asked me the unexpected question which was “If you were his wife, would you be so impressed with his apology?”  Of course, I don’t know what his wife would have done.  I do know that most people will forgive almost anything if the transgressor owns his sin.

Tomorrow, Bill Clinton is coming to town to campaign for Tom Barrett for Governor.  This is the same guy who stowed his White House intern conveniently under his desk just in case any special needs came up.  But hey, he finally, finally, finally admitted to what he had done and presto/chango, he’s a statesman, a diplomat, a hero of the people, and the cutest good ol’ boy ever.

Man, you don’t need to be perfect in my book.  You just need to be straight.  If you fuck up, say it.  That’s what John Edwards did today.  He said it.  He sinned.  He sure did.

And then he said, “God isn’t done with me yet.”

That’s so true. Now’s the time for redemption.