Picture, if you will, me. I am walking on East Fifty-first Street an hour ago and I decided to construct and develop a really decorative, general-all-purpose apology. Not compli¬cated, just the words, "I am sorry," said with a little style.
SANDRASorry for what?
Anything. For being late, early, stupid, asleep, silly, alive. (He moves about now, acting out the scene in the street for her) Well, y'know when you're walking down the street talking to yourself how sometimes you suddenly say a coupla words out loud? So I said, "I'm sorry," and this fella, complete stranger, he looks up a second and says, "That's all right, Mac," and goes right on. He automatically forgave me. I communicated. Five-o'clock rush-hour in midtown you could say, "Sir, I believe your hair is on fire," and they wouldn't hear you.
So I decided to test the whole thing out scientifically; I stayed right there on the corner of Fifty-first and Lex for a while, just saying "I'm sorry" to everybody that went by. "Oh, I'm so sorry, sir ... " "I'm terribly sorry, madam ... " "Say there, miss, I'm sorry." Of course, some people just gave me a funny look, but Sandy, I swear, seventy-five percent of them forgave me. "Forget it, buddy ... " "That's OK, really." Two ladies forgave me in unison, one fella forgave me from a passing car, and one guy forgave me for his dog. "Poofer forgives the nice man, don't you, Poofer?" Oh Sandy, it was fabulous. I had tapped some vast reservoir. Something had happened in all of them for which they felt somebody should apologize. If you went up to people on the street and offered them money, they'd refuse it. But everybody accepts apology immediately. It is the most negotiable currency. I said to them, "I am sorry." And they were all so generous, so kind. You could give 'em love and it wouldn't be accepted half as graciously, as unquestioningly ....
Sandy, I could run up on the roof right now and holler, "I am sorry," and half a million people would holler right back, "That's OK, just see that you don't do it again!" ... That's the most you should expect from life, Sandy, a really good apology for all the things you won't get.Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns
Scobie said sharply, “Don’t talk nonsense, dear. We’d forgive most things if we knew the facts.”
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
Most but not all quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar. Liturgy Training Publication, 1990.