I mentioned Miss Hopper yesterday, whose snappy remark hung over my mother’s life. And, in the comments, said that teachers, in those days, would not have apologised to their pupils, even if they knew well that they had been unjust, unkind or plain wrong. They would have thought that it would undermine their authority. For that matter, many people are still unwilling to apologise, and only too willing to judge more harshly than they expect to be judged themselves. Many people…..to be frank, all of us on occasion and most of us sometimes.
If you know you’ve done something wrong and can put it right, that’s one thing. But an unquiet conscience is a troubling thing. The biggest thing on mine? Not the worst thing I’ve done by any means, but the thing that I’m sorriest for happened more than thirty years ago. I was driving along a road in Lowestoft in my little Morris Minor, in the pouring rain one winter’s day. I rounded a corner and was confronted by a vast puddle in front of me. No time to slow down, a car coming the other way so I couldn’t drive around it, and an elderly man in a raincoat on the pavement. I can still picture the scene I saw in my rear-view mirror – a wall of water, head-height, engulfing him.
I couldn’t help it. It was a true accident. But, and this is my wrongdoing, I didn’t stop. I would now, I would at any time in the past thirty years. But I was young, afraid of his anger, without the self-confidence to do the right thing and stop, take him home, pay for the dry cleaning. Say sorry. I drove on.
And the moment passed. Nothing I can do. Telling you doesn’t exonerate me. Poor man.
When I was about 15, I turned up at my school cookery class one day, complete with my apron and little gingham cap that I had made in dressmaking class, but with my long hair in a hairband rather than tied up. The teacher snapped at me for being untidy. She happened to be the sister of our next-door neighbour and, years later, I chatted to her at a party. She mentioned the incident. She said that she had regretted it ever since, that she had been so rude – she had said that I looked like one of the witches in Macbeth.
She apologised. I accepted the apology, saying that I had forgotten all about it and had not taken it as an unkindness. That was a polite lie, I had been upset and – whilst accepting that I had been untidy and deserved a rebuke – the hurt had, actually, lasted. But I so appreciated that she had remembered and been sorry, and had told me so.