All Apologies

So when I said Ted Lasso was my new religion, I was joking. I mean, mostly.

I’m approaching the impending third and likely final season of the Apple TV series with a mix of trepidation and excitement.  Trepidation, because the series release date has been pushed back repeatedly, which seldom bodes well for the product. Excitement because, well, it’s been a remarkably good show so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

This weekend, I went back and watched a stretch of Season 1. (From “Two Aces” through “All Apologies”. Does four consecutive episodes count as a binge? Asking for a friend.) And the thing that jumped out at me, the thing that I had noticed before (I’m not saying how many times I’ve watched these episodes), but this time realized was maybe a key to the transcendence of this show, is the apologies.

Ted apologizes to Nate for yelling at him. Nate apologizes to Rebecca and Keeley for making a nervous, sexist joke. Roy apologizes to Keeley for not explaining what he’s thinking. Keeley apologizes to Roy for sleeping with Jamie. (I have mentioned before, but will restate, that I do not recommend this show to those offended by frank talk of sex or bad language.) And Rebecca apologizes, both to Higgins and, most memorably, to Ted.

And none of these sound like what real-life apologies sound like. In each of them, the apologizer says, clearly, both what they did wrong and that they are sorry for it. Sometimes they ask for forgiveness. Rebecca doesn’t, because she recognizes the depth of wrong she has done to Ted and the team.

Who does that, really? In the sacrifice scene in Two Aces, Jamie gets closer to reality, making amends with the team by indirectly admitting his failings. Rebecca is even closer to reality when she calls Ted into her office and then chickens out.

When you think about it, I’m not sure even the Bible has as consistent an ethos of frank apologies. As much as Paul changes his ways, I don’t think there’s a record of him going to the Disciples and saying, “Hey, I held the coats of the people who stoned Stephen to death and then took off through the countryside rounding up Christians and sending them to their death. I’m sorry I did that.” Nor does Peter even have to confess to the risen Jesus his betrayal; in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him, which most commentators see as an unwinding of Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. But Peter never actually admits what he did and says that he’s sorry.

One of the things I shied away from as a former Methodist was the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (or confession, which is really what it’s known as). The idea of telling a priest in detail about the times you let God down? No, thank you. Like most Protestants, I stuck with the company line that I didn’t need to confess to a priest, because I could go straight to Jesus.

Except, of course, that I never really did.

What it has taken me a long time to learn is that, as cringey and painful as it is to literally confess and apologize for what I’ve done wrong, the catharsis of being forgiven is many times more freeing. But there’s no shorthand way to that catharsis. Even if you know that the name of God is Mercy, you don’t feel the full lightness of a weight lifted until you admit taking that weight on to begin with. And I can understand why many saintly priests spent so much time hearing confessions, because I have to think that being able to offer people that kind of release from psychic bondage would be pretty addictive.

It seems like, at a societal level, we’re leaning hard away from apologizing, even more than we used to. In a range of arenas, I see people more inclined to deny that they did something wrong, even when the evidence clearly shows they did, than to admit it. There’s this sense that if we deny it strongly enough, we can get away with apologizing for nothing.

The truth is, though, a lot of what burdens us is baggage that either comes from refusing to apologize because it feels too hard, or refusing to forgive because it feels too soft. It would be a different world if we realized that the benefits of apologizing outweighed the discomfort of owning up to our failings, or that the freedom of offering forgiveness is even greater than the freedom of being forgiven.

That seems to be the very different world in which Ted Lasso’s characters live. At least for one more season. To Richmond!

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