Making direct amends can be difficult, but necessary, when the harmed party is looking for it, and rewarding when you do it well. The payoff is reconciliation. But not everyone you have harmed is all set to forgive you. Some are gone, many don’t know they were harmed, and a lot don’t want anything to do with you. Maybe they’ve been waiting for you, but gave up. You might be the first on the scene. No one is ready for reconciliation at the precise moment you’re ready for it.
However, making amends isn’t just about making up to the victim for something you’ve done, it’s also the process of forgiving yourself. If you’re feeling guilty, then I think it’s safe to say that there was something in your conduct that didn’t square with your idea of yourself. You weren’t the best you could be. You were raised better than that; and, even if you weren’t, then you’ve always wanted to do better than your parents ever could. Making amends is not just about healing the relationship; it’s also about healing yourself. The guilty person feels broken. There’s a hole inside. Something’s gnawing at you that you want to stop.
A guilty person is apt to feel stymied when he finds his victim uninterested in or incapable of forgiveness. He may believe he can go no further. It’s true that you can’t make it to full reconciliation alone, but you can get as far as peace and acceptance. Peace and acceptance is a pretty nice place. You gain entry to peace and acceptance by making indirect amends.
Indirect amends involves taking all the things you cannot do for the victim and doing them for someone else. If restitution demands that you be there for your daughter, but she doesn’t want to see you, then be there for someone else. Become the kind of guy others can count on. If you gave up a child, either by abortion or adoption, and feel guilty about it, you cannot make direct amends; but there’s plenty of other people out there who need your support. If you were rude and ungrateful to your father and he died before you could show him you were sorry, then find someone else to be gracious to. If you know you harmed someone, but don’t even know or remember who it was, then you can hardly make direct amends to them; but you can spread bounty and goodwill to random people you come across.
Why would you be so nice to people you are not indebted to, who you don’t even know? You probably need the practice. You will run the risk of being one of those people who are great to everyone else, but nasty son-of-a-bitches to the people they love. That’s the problem with indirect amends and why they should be direct when possible.
If guilt is dogging your footsteps; if regret disturbs your peace, then you have a mission. Don’t ever let anyone talk you out of feeling guilty, but there’s no reason to wallow in guilt. Guilt is trying to show you something. Look at what it’s pointing out to you. The world is broken, you have something to do with that, and you can do something about it.