Monday, July 18, 2011

Punching a Third Grader

Did you ever do something sort of dumb or even downright mean to another person, either on purpose or by accident? No. Right? Not you. You, like I, have never done anything that negatively impacted another individual. Like I have, you have lived a life of perfect fabulousness regarding the direct influence of your actions on others. But what if you had not?  Just for a moment, imagine that perhaps you had done something that actually hurt another individual, either physically or emotionally. Then imagine, outrageous as it seems, that at the time that you committed this act – either mildly agitating or downright grievous – you failed to apologize. Time has gone by, and now stepping up to say the most difficult three words in the English language – “I am sorry” – seems pointless.

Have you experienced anything like that in real life? You have??? Well, do I have news for you!  Wait for it… wait for it… there is no statute of limitations for “I am sorry.” Seriously! I totally looked it up! Okay, I didn’t really, but I happen to know this is true from direct experience. Even better, I didn’t get this experience being the do-badder, the person whose conscience might feel a smidge soothed by getting that ginormous apology off my chest. Oh no! I can tell you this from the side of she-who-was-wronged. Yea verily. Read on.
When I was in third grade, back during the middle ages before the advent of Duran Duran and double flipped-up Izod collars, my mother and I moved to a new town. As I settled into the elementary school in said new town, apparently I ticked off a few of the local kids, particularly one fellow third grader to whom I will only refer as J.
As it happens, J was a bit of an overachiever, as was I. Unfortunately for us both, and quite out of both of our control, the school district I’d attended before moving to this town was a little more advanced when it came to elementary Reading curriculum. I started my new school having completed the Reading curriculum for pretty much the entire first half of the school year at my new school. (You may be getting a hint of why I believe in a nationwide, standardized elementary school curriculum… but that’s not today’s topic.)
So anyway, I thought it was pretty cool being in my own Reading group at the ripe old age of 7. (Hint to Third Grade Teachers: Do not try this in your classrooms. Bad idea.) As any 7-year-old might do, I wanted to talk about this. Wonder about it. Be in open awe of it. In other words, I was a bit bragadocious.
J, who himself was one of the “smart kids” and proud of it, surprisingly did not find my boasting appealing. So one day, as we lined up to head back to class after recess, J hauled off and punched me square in the stomach. Knocked the breath clean out of me. I remember walking back inside, doubled over, holding my stomach and trying to remember how my lungs worked and wondering what the f*** had just happened!!
Remember, I’m talking about young kids here. Little 8-year-old J and little 7-year-old me. BUT it gets better than that, because little 8-year-old J was wearing… wait for it… a BOY SCOUT uniform. Yep. I wonder where in the Boy Scout oath it calls for putting snotty girls in their place with a swift right upper cut to the diaphragm. That must be an optional line.
But it gets better! Oh yes. You see, because J was so wonderful and well-behaved most of the time, no one believed me that J was the criminal mastermind behind this heinous act. Not the teacher. Not the principal. In fact, they tried to get me to pin it on another boy, a slightly less unrumpled figure named Chris! Poor Chris. But I don’t crumble that easily under pressure. I stood my ground.
For years afterward, J refused to admit that he had hit me. He absolutely would not cop to his actions.
Me, about a year before all of this happened.
I don't know what's more tragic... the gut-punch, this hairstyle or the shirt-tucked-into-shorts gorgeousness.

UNTIL… several years later, J and I were both at a pretty large post-high-school-graduation party. He didn’t know I would be there; I didn’t know he would be there. We lived about two houses apart and hung out on occasion, but we didn’t really qualify as “friends” (a pity really, because in all seriousness he’s a great guy). By the time we encountered one another at this party, J was a smidge tipsy. Out of nowhere he looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You know that thing that happened back in third grade? That was totally me, and I just want to say that I’m sorry.”
I would not have been more shocked if he’d said, “You know how my hair looks naturally brown? Well, it’s actually a flamboyant neon orange that I have to color nightly by dousing it in carburetor fluid.” But you know what? J’s admission and apology made my night. It made my summer, really. I didn’t feel gloaty or proud to have been proven right. I just felt a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude. All over an apology for a punch in the gut that had happened 10 years earlier.
Now, my gratitude and happy feeliness may have been a bit dampened by the fact that as J imbibed greater quantities of alcohol, he felt compelled to return to my side often to repeat and reinforce this apology. Over the course of several hours. I say “may have” because his initial apology had me so giddy that I couldn’t help but be charmed by his continued protestations of “I’m serious. It was me, and I’m sorry. No  really. I did it. I did. I hit you back then. And I’m really sorry.”
To this day, I don’t know if J finally ‘fessed up and apologized that evening because it was the end of our school days and time to move on to our adult lives or if the guilt (or just the silly lie) had finally gotten to him one too many times… or if perhaps this was the first time we’d been at a party simultaneously where liquid courage was provided.  No matter what, I’m so happy it happened. It still brings a smile to my face, many epochs hence.
So anyway, while you and I know that you would never do something moronic or cruel to another individual – either by accident or by direct intent – should that unlikely event happen at some point, and should you be afraid to apologize immediately (or just not have the opportunity), make sure you apologize at some point. Don’t let time go by just because you think it won’t matter anymore. It will.


  1. Your post actually made me think about a different kinds of apology...not the ones where one person has clearly and unequivocally wronged another, but the much more common: we have different opinions about the goals, facts, objectives, relationships, etc.,

    Whether it is family, business, or social, these seem to be the one's that really take an emotional toll on people. I think there are two issues around apologies that make them really tricky: 1) people have to be willing (AND ESPECIALLY...ABLE) to recognize that an alternate view of reality might have value; and 2) many view apologizing as a sign of weakness. OH and I'll add a bonus thought #3; some people are locked into an I win or you win mind set.

    I don't want to abscond your post, but I've actually spent a bunch of time thinking about this. Rather than blither on, I'll leave it at this...I believe it takes great intellectual and emotional strength to be comfortable genuinely owning an apology. Those who can do it well, not only make amends for a mistake, the build trust and credibility...Those who can't...don't!

  2. I couldn't agree with you more, Rich! Seriously. I've had many a hefty conversation on this topic with people who feel that, as you note, "winning" is the point of an active disagreement (aka: argument). Honestly, it takes far more honor and courage to concede well-made points in a disagreement or even to apologize for being overbearing/out of line than it does to be a brute or a stubborn mule.

  3. Ok. You’ve got me. I actually have instances that fit into both of these. AND I plan to rectify my part as soon as I can.

    I will say that The Kid had a recent incident where he got into a fight with another kid in the neighborhood. This was a first for my son, but after much questioning we found out that he had actually started the whole thing by being annoying. We went out into the neighborhood, hunted down the home of this kid, knocked on the front door, spoke to his mom and made The Kid apologize. While this was happening, the other kid’s dad came home from work. When he found out what was happening, he was actually shocked that 1) our kid had told us the truth about what had happened and 2) that we made him come over and apologize.

    Who knows what the ramifications will be for this, but so far there has been no further fighting. We are hopeful that by making him do this he will think twice before he ever does it again.

    Okay, no I’m off to search facebook for someone I need to send an apology to…


  4. Good for you, Tami! I got to apologize for something long-overdue a few months ago, and it felt so good. I hope you find him/her.

    As for your son... again, good for you. Seriously. It's nice to hear from another parent who'll go to that extent to teach a valuable lesson AND to right a wrong.

  5. You are always so spot on, Megan. I love this post as I do all of your others. I'm glad J apologized, and I see your following point about a potential hidden agenda. Men!

    You did make me think of those relationships that have been spoiled by mistakes I have made and I will make my amends. Thanks.


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