When receiving becomes a gift

The general rule is: If you open a gift in the presence of the giver, then your verbal thanks are sufficient.

Emily Post

I checked my email one last time just before boarding the first leg of my flight from San Jose to Baltimore. There was a single new message, an apology from a long-time colleague who I hold in great respect, and with whom I had been in disagreement for some months. His words, “I feel sorry that I hurt you,” were neither casual not formulaic. And yet I struggled to take in his words, to actually receive the gift, the shift in relationship, that they held.


I wanted nothing more than to be able to simply open his gift, stand alive and in his presence across the geographic distance, and heartfully respond “Thank you.”  Except that wasn’t true. My feelings were varied, complicated, turbulent. 


Our relationship deserved more than a few words hurriedly sent off in response to his. For the many hours of flight and baggage handling, arriving home in the wee hours of the morning to a week’s worth of mail and tasks waiting for me, I struggled mightily to stay put in the gap between how I wanted to feel – generous, connected, forgiving, and the way I did feel: angry, small, closed, steeled.


Eventually…by the late afternoon hours, I recognized an old and familiar theme: fundamentally, essentially I was disappointed. I understood that I had burdened his words with a lifetime of disappointment, and I was able to respond to him:

I had to sit for a long time to be able to take in your words – “I feel sorry.” I have been waiting forever for God or Reality or Someone to say “Sara, I am so sorry…” It has taken me hours to let all the weight of the past roll off, and receive these as just your words.

The following week we spoke at length by phone. There was no barrier in our exchange. We each talked about our struggles and vulnerabilities and responsibility.  We did not “solve” our disagreement. Yet it was, from both ends, the most undefended conversation we have had in our twenty-one year relationship, both friendly and respectful, amends without glossing over, full of the nourishment and beauty of receiving, of being in friendly and respectful relationship.


Who in your life is waiting for you to receive their words, their heart, their being, just as they are, and just as you are, without glossing over?

What holds you back?