We live our lives with gratitude and regret. Well, perhaps not everyone does, but I certainly do. So often I will replay events in my mind, thinking how they could have been handled better. Even when there are seemingly positive, successful episodes, it doesn't take long to stop and wonder if there was something I'd missed that could have made them worse than I remember. Perhaps I fall too far on one of the spectrum when it comes to self-doubt, though, if we're being honest, I wish it were more widespread.
It feels like, all too often, we go through life without giving enough thought to others around us, and the impact we have upon them. Of course, we are almost always cognizant of when others treat us poorly or well, but how often are we truly self-aware? How often do we stop, reflect, and think, 'I could have handled that situation better?' Taking it a step further, how often do we apologize to someone for something we've done to them? How often do we actually thank a person for simply being a good person toward us?
To provide just one example: A few years ago, my high school graduating class had its twenty-year reunion. As regular readers of this blog will know, growing up wasn't easy for me (is it for anyone?), and I was bullied pretty regularly, to the point that I finished the last leg of high school on home-bound education. There were a lot of bad memories associated with that time of my life, and the thought of a reunion didn't particularly occupy the brightest corner of my mind. But there were lingering issues to resolve. Not scores to be settled, but "thank yous" and an "I'm sorry" or two to make.
The weekend of the reunion arrived and, of the all the people I encountered, there were two I spoke with who I felt needed to be spoken with regarding past issues. The first was a former classmate whose name I had made fun of, on numerous occasions. There is no good reason why I did that. I guess it got some laughs from fellow classmates (the wrong sorts of laughs, of course), and I desperately wanted to be liked by them. It all seems like such folly now, but then so much of being young seems, in retrospect, to be full of folly.
After the former classmate and I had made some small talk at the reunion for a few minutes, I brought up how I was sorry for having made fun of his name all those years ago. It was certainly an awkward moment, and I wasn't sure if his reaction would be a terse, 'Yeah, about that... ' or something else. As it was, he remained calm, shrugged, and said he didn't remember it. I was a bit surprised, though admittedly relieved (to be honest, I didn't, and still don't, know if he was being honest about not remembering). Regardless, the apology was made.
The other person arrived later during the reunion. I'd reached a point where I didn't think he'd show up at all. He'd been one of the more popular kids in my class and, to be candid, I'd had a huge crush on him back in the day. There were times during high school when the bullying and isolation (I'd had no real friends to speak of during those years) became so much that I'd contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. And, at least once, I was on the verge of doing it. This person, however, was one of the reasons I am still here. He showed me kindness when none of my other peers did. So did another classmate (one who I didn't have a crush on), but he didn't attend the reunion.
So, over to this fellow I went, once he'd arrived and had been there for several minutes. Stammering through much of it, I attempted to thank him for having helped me get through a difficult period of life. I actually told him that he's one of the reasons I'm still here today. I thanked him for his kindness. He just sort of stared back at me. It wasn't a terrible stare, though it was a little blank. He said, "Okay, okay... " and maybe there was a "you're welcome" in there, too? I don't really know. My mind went about as blank as his face did, and I nodded, almost in tears, and walked away.
I watch a lot of movies. Again, this is something that regular readers of this blog will know. People communicate differently in the movies. They tend to be more open and honest (even if much of the movie is about the characters not communicating, eventually, they will open up). People will share their thoughts and feelings, whether they be family or friends (heck, sometimes even enemies), and there is often understanding and resolution. Alas, it doesn't seem to happen that way in real life. At least, not as often as it should. We envision rewarding and emotional conversations and, when they finally materialize, they are often awkward and unfulfilling.
At the high school reunion, the person I apologized to didn't remember what I was apologizing about, and the person I thanked (probably too profusely) seemed to almost recoil from my attempt at expressed gratitude, making me feel like a blubbering mess. Its made me wonder: Are thank yous and apologies worth it? Are they a quaint notion built-up in one's head that don't really work in real life? Did I simply pick the wrong people to express regret and gratitude toward? And, in total honesty, I have to ask: Why did I do it?
In my head and in my heart, making the effort to apologize to or thank someone is based on a desire to try and make them feel better. We convince ourselves that, regardless of what transpired, we truly have the best interests of the other person in mind. But is that really the reason we express remorse or appreciation? Are these sorts of things more selfish in nature? Are they conscience-clearers -- attempts to reform our perceived reputation with others? How much of an apology or a thank you is truly altruistic?
I did mention earlier that I have a lot of self-doubt.