Tuesday, September 26, 2006

because I need some of that vagueness now

I am still interested to hear your thoughts on the question posed in yesterday's post, although perhaps you all think it's too obvious a point to discuss (and I would not blame you for that), but yesterday's post referenced the following William Carlos Williams poem:
This is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And this made me revisit why I relish this poem so much. In some ways, it does no good to discuss poetry at length. The poet always does a much better job at capturing everything the words are trying to convey by putting them together so perfectly.

All the same, I love the Williams poem, because it is so true. Maybe I have ingested a little too much Camus, or maybe I have just grown numb with age, or maybe, just maybe I've squared with innate tendencies, but Williams perfectly captures how we willfully do the wrong thing with very little remorse. When he writes these two lines together, it's hard to suppress a smile:
Forgive me
they were delicious

It's such a simple depiction of the way we say sorry but don't really mean it. Recently, my cousin M was telling me that she noticed that people say Sorry much more in New York than anywhere else she had lived. This surprised her, because she had always thought of New York as an unfriendly, possibly rude place. When people started apologizing to her incessantly, she came up with this whole theory about how New Yorkers are more insecure than they let on, and they don't actually want to be rude. Being a complete cynic, I came up with an alternate theory- by saying Sorry, they were exonerating themselves from guilt. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about- you have been at a concert or a club or a party where some cutesy chick has smashed right into you, turned, and sweetly chirped, "Sorry!" before walking carelessly away. And you have wanted to smack her. Why? Because you know she isn't really sorry. It's just that you have stared her down, forcing her to acknowledge that she has done wrong by you, and in order to get out of the situation, here comes the meaningless apology.

I count myself among the gang of empty apologists. It is perhaps because of this that I do not care so much about heartfelt words anymore. I will never forget receiving an email from Q one day, after we hadn't spoken or written for over two years, that included the following passage:
Many thoughts and memories surround you and certainly regrets for having acted like an asshole with you. I'm really sorry..I don't know if I ever expressed this as simply, but really, I'm sorry I was such an asshole.

At the time, I remember sitting in a hotel room in DC, trying to catch my breath. It was so unexpected. And it had been a strange day. I had been recruited a week before to give a talk at a major conference, and had just delivered it in the morning. I had returned to my hotel room with plans to meet RR for a walk over to the Lincoln Memorial, and two emails were sitting in my inbox. One marked the first step towards The Goal. The other was Q's email.

It sounded so sincere, and I am, after all, a sucker for words. I say I am not into heartfelt words now, but I say it without much conviction. If someone wrote me another email like Q's, I might fall for it all over again. In some ways, I would like to hope I would still fall for it, because if not, it means I have closed off yet another avenue to the person I like to think I am.

I sat on his email for two weeks, not knowing what to write. Since I had never thought of Q as an a$$hole, his hyperbolic apology made me wonder if he had done me more wrong than I had realized. Alternately, I wondered if he was hoping an exaggerated apology would win him a second chance. But then, later, we met, and just as quickly he reverted back to his ethereal ways. I always got the feeling I was grasping for sand that was slipping through my fingers when I was talking to him. And predictably, he disappeared again.

We know, I think, that we do the wrong thing, but we would do it again in a heartbeat. And it's that knowledge that fuels guilt. The knowledge that we are capable of willfully hurting someone else if it serves our purpose or our self-preservation. And when we apologize, often it is not because we are truly sorry. But rather, we are looking for exoneration, hoping to get a free pass.

This all sounds tragically bleak, but I can balance it out to some extent. The thing about Q's apology is that it was great on paper, but it did not stick. I've been the recipient of better apologies that were never spoken. Sometimes, it has been as simple as a knowing look of acknowledgement. And that knowing look means more to me than most anything else, because it is followed up by action, moving action that shows true remorse. I would like not to be such an empty apologist, and instead, make good on my intentions- make real amends. But more often than not, I'm just saying sorry.

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