Dear Robert: I owe you an apology.
Burton K. Janes
I owe you an apology.
In my younger and more carefree days, I really enjoyed playing practical jokes on people. However, one such joke, unfortunately at your expense, got out of hand and, to put it mildly, created quite a furor.
It was the 1970s and you and I were students at a Bible college in Ontario. At the time, if you will recall, I thought you were obsessed with the Illuminati, allegedly a secret organization that is seeking world domination. Some of our fellow students were becoming scared and unsettled, so I decided to play a joke on you, to convince you the Illuminati was not a subject worthy of such intense focus.
I typed a letter that, in no uncertain terms, expressed concern that you were prying into the organization. I then issued a cease and desist order.
"Failure to comply with these directions," I added, "will be met with severe repercussions. You have been warned!" As a fitting point of emphasis, I attached my fingerprint in red paint and signed off with a name traditionally associated with the organization. I mailed the letter to a penpal in England and asked him to send it back to you.
Some weeks later, one of our teachers arrived late for class.
"I apologize for being late," he said. "I’ve just been speaking with Robert, who's received a threat on his life from the Illuminati. He needs your prayers."
Not surprisingly, news of the letter spread like wildfire around the college. Rather than accept responsibility and apologize at that time, I remained silent.
I recall, with horror, the day you told me you had gone out and purchased a life insurance policy because of your fear of being hunted down and killed.
Robert, I’m currently reading the book, "Public Apology," in which Dave Bry grapples with a lifetime of regret, one incident at a time. Bry is sorry about many things.
He’s sorry for offering fake drugs in the boys’ room in junior high. For stealing a six-pack out of the fridge in a couple’s garage. For rejoicing over the prospect that the town where his French teacher lived would be destroyed.
He’s also sorry for spitting a mouthful of hamburger back onto his place in front of other customers in a bistro in Paris. "I’m sorry if I caused a scene, or worse, cost you any business .... It had been a weird week. You want so badly to be cool when you’re 12 .... I had a lot yet to learn about being cool."
For shunning a friend after he got up in front of everyone and cried at the personal growth workshop their parents had sent them to when they were in high school. "We made fun of you, as I’m sure you were aware," Bry writes.
Bry claims to be a different man now. He desperately wants to come to terms with his past by making right a lifetime of wrongs before moving on. He’s doing this by publicly apologizing.
Robert, I would like to think I, too, am a different and, hopefully, better person than I was in the 1970s. I realize now that, at the time I was cooking up this joke, I should have been doing more of what I had gone to college to do in the first place, prepare for the pastoral ministry. I should have spent more time studying the Bible and less time playing jokes on people. I should have devoted more time to prayer, in an attempt to discern the shape of my future. I should have paid more attention in chapel to spiritual things than to ways to scare the living’ daylights out of you. I should have listened more closely to my teachers at the college and the pastors at the church I attended on Sundays.
Because hindsight is perfect sight, I cannot undo the past. But I can come clean by offering you a public, sincere and heartfelt apology for my insensitive act. Will you please forgive me?
Meanwhile, if you want to read Dave Bry’s book, "Public Apology," it is published by Grand Central Publishing of New York.
In the words of Rosie Schaap, a columnist with "New York Times Magazine," the author "shows us that compassion and maturity start with contrition. If you’ve ever behaved badly at a family gathering ... maybe it’s time to say you’re sorry. With abundant humour, humanity, and voice all his own, Bry shows the way." I know he has shown me the way.
Burton K. Janes
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org