I made a mistake: I was speaking about someone and I used a pronoun which does not match their chosen identity. It was in a public space.

I was mortified. I hurt and offended a wonderful human being. I embarrassed myself in front of people who expect me to know better and do better.

When it happened, I almost froze—I was unsure what to do and found myself falling back on what I learned long ago in school—and just pushed through without acknowledgment.

But it worried me so much I could barely sit still. I went to the person I offended and apologized.

With grace, they accepted my apology. They had no responsibility for educating me but chose to speak with me briefly about how I might have managed the situation in the moment. I listened to their advice and have since taken the time to do some study—and to reflect on what I might have done differently.

Some of my thoughts are these: I should slow down in some conversations and interactions to give my brain time to connect a person with the pronoun of their choice or the identity of their choosing. When I say something wrong, I could just stop and say “Excuse me, I should have said…” or “Sorry, I said the wrong thing” or “Forgive me…” or something like that—in the moment. It never hurts to keep quiet if in doubt—best to let others speak for themselves, especially those who are often not allowed to speak for themselves.

Of course, we all make mistakes. Some of them pretty terrible. If we are lucky we encounter grace and the opportunity to learn and grow—and to begin again.

It is not to say that we can continue to make the same mistakes over and over. It is not to say that everyone offended should forgive. It is not to say that every action is forgiveable.

Some people are choosing to purposefully harm. But we can slow the rush to instant judgement and punishment—we can take some time to discern how to respond to the actions, the words of those around us. We can covenant together to build spaces which support our better selves. This can be a community where we support one another as we learn to make fewer and fewer mistakes which cause harm.

As adrienne maree brown writes in We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative Justice:

I want us to see ourselves as a murmuration of creatures who are, as far as we know right now, unique in all the universe. Each cell, each individual body, itself a unique part of this unique complexity. I want us not to waste the time we have together. I want us to look at each other with the eyes of interdependence, such that when someone causes harm, we find the gentle parent inside of us who can use a voice of accountability, while also bringing curiosity—“Why did you cause harm? Do you know? Do you know other options? Apologize.” That we can set boundaries that don’t require the disappearance of other survivors. That we can act towards accountability with the touch of love. That when someone falls behind, we can use a parent’s voice of discipline, while also picking them up and carrying them for a while if needed. I want us to adapt from systems of oppression and punishment to systems of uplifting and transforming.

May this community, with its many mistakes and forgiving grace, hold you in care and comfort. May we be accountable to one another. May we bring joy and delight to each other’s lives.

Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore