Wednesday morning, Wellfleet, Mass. Summer vacation stretches endlessly before me, even if I know that’s not the case. Summer is never endless, except in a few places that I wouldn’t want to live. And vacation, well, if it were endless I could never afford to take one. But it sure felt that way earlier this morning.
I drove to the beach–a pond beach, if anyone really wants to know–and parked under a shady tree. The afternoon was supposed to be hot, and anything that can be done to plan for it is a good thing. I crossed the street, careful to avoid the cyclists that were buzzing through the streets, and walked down a staircase toward the water.
At the bottom of the staircase, there was a narrow strip of sand maybe four feet wide. There were two blankets placed on the sand, one of which was unoccupied and one which was in use by a skinny boy of about nine or ten. He saw I was coming, got up and said “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t really in a hurry, and I could have walked around him without any trouble at all. In fact, that was just as I was planning to do.
I saw something of myself in this kid, even though I have no idea of who he was and what his story is. But I was once a kid who felt like everything was bad and I was doing something wrong. In the intervening years, I have learned that it’s no way to live.
And so I looked at the kid, gave him a not-to-worry smile, and said “Life’s too short to be sorry.” And I meant it, too. From the time I was his age, until this morning’s walk toward the pond beach, I’ve seen plenty of examples to support that premise. And whether or not this kid really felt bad, he had no reason to do that, and I wanted him to know this.
Was I saying that there’s never any reason for remorse? Not at all. When other people are hurt by our actions, then some genuine remorse is called for. But from my perspective, the sort of reflexive apology that this young kid offered to me this morning has no real meaning.
He smiled back at me as I was walking past, and that was the end of our encounter. Whether he ever thinks about it again, I can’t say. But as for me, and the experiences I’ve gained over the past decades of living, I wish someone would have pointed out how short life is. And how important it is to feel good about yourself while you’re here.
The truth is that you can spend as much of your life as you want to feeling bad about yourself and what you’re doing on this earth. Or, you can take a different approach altogether. You’re in your little part of the world, and I’m in mine. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, most likely, and so offering up empty words like “I’m sorry” don’t really help either of us out very much.
I have come to the reasoned position that most apologies, whether sincere or not, are just a waste of breath. What’s worse, they cheapen the words for those times when they truly are called for.
If ever I write a book, which is about as likely as me swallowing this computer keyboard whole, I want it to have the same name as this post. Because I apologized to everyone and everyone, whether I needed to or not, for several decades over the course of my life. And not one of these apologies ever changed a thing.
So say whatever you’re going to say, young man on a beach in Cape Cod, but don’t say that you’re sorry. I don’t need to hear it, and you don’t need to say it. And for anyone else who may ever come upon this, please do likewise. We’ll both be better off for it.