A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Making Amends

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

One of the great things about the 12-step program to which I alluded when I wrote about my addiction some time ago is the necessity to make amends to people I have hurt or neglected or bad-mouthed.

Or even, as I discovered recently, making amends to people about whom I have long held resentment but who are blissfully unaware of my warped thinking.

The relief that comes from these ‘confessions’ has repaid my efforts to make good over and over.

Sometimes, for example if someone has died, it is not possible to make direct amends but that is no barrier. To write a letter confesssing my sins and humbly seeking forgiveness is a most cathartic exercise.

Fr Michael Denk’s Blog

Fr Michael Denk’s Blog

I cannot, nor do I, insist on forgiveness – and that is largely irrelevant. What is essential is that I sincerely express my regret and, where possible, make amends.

I realised earlier this year that for almost half a century I had been holding a grudge against many of my classmates. I am certain that they would have been totally unaware and yet this poison inside me had been eating away at me for all that time. Over the years, this sickness – because that’s what I now believe it to have been – would manifest, for example, when in the course of conversation someone would start reminiscing about their school days and I would inevitably shrink inside and then make a comment about ‘hating my schooldays’.

Last year was our 50th school reunion. I considered going but did not. Being on the email list of recipients I had the names of 65 classmates. I made my apologies and put the invitation aside wishing that things could be different.

And then, things became different. A few months later I had what I would almost call an epiphany when I began to reflect on the real cause of my enmity towards many of those classmates.

Finally, inspired no doubt by the Holy Spirit, I sat down and wrote a letter to 65 people.

I’d like to share with you a part of what I wrote:

I had, or I felt I had almost nothing in common with any of you. I envied you your various skills, I resented the fact that I did not have them. I lived in my head, wishing things could be different. I hated some of you because you were a constant reminder of what I wanted to be but believed I couldn’t.

It is nobody’s fault that our school did not cater to boys like me. Nowdays, of course, I would be lost for options – anything from drama classes to squash ... and any one of a number of non-contact sports. As well, now there are ‘safety nets’ - counsellors who one way or another catch boys like me and stop them becoming ‘losers’.

Anyway, school finally ended and I was happy to cut all ties. Too many bad memories. 

It was late in life that I began to reflect on my own role in all this – the self-pity that for decades I tried to justify, the blaming, the projecting onto others, the old tapes playing over and over in my head, the constant if-onlys, the justification of ‘it wasn’t fair’. 

And then, one day, I made a decision to grow up. I decided to stop living in the future, to stop resenting the past, to live a day at a time and to be grateful.

The relief I felt after emailing this letter was enormous. It did not matter that none of the boys/men would have been aware of my distorted thinking, my resentment, envy, jealousy and so on. What mattered was that I had finally let go. I could stop hating and blaming.

And I have, and it is a blessed and wonderful thing.

I was not seeking forgiveness in the conventional sense. I suppose I was seeking, peace of mind, and I found it.

Though I was not expecting responses I had at least a dozen letters expressing gratitude, surprise and offers to reconnect.

I have written other letters and they, too, have given me blessed relief.

I still have to talk to Tom. That will be painful. Tom died a few years ago helping the victims of Cyclone Katrina. God knows how sorry I am, and so does Tom, but I need to write it down. In fact, I did – quite a few years ago – but it didn’t measure up. I haven’t forgotten, Tom, I’ll be in touch.


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