Friday, July 9, 2010

A Sad Story Too Often Heard

A columnist in the recent Catholic Times gives us something to think about. He described the conversation he had with an ex-convict whose greatest problem was trusting others. Living in a world he found threatening, he grew up believing he must be strong and, if necessary, violent; it got him into prison.

He told a story that goes back to his 5th-grade grammar school days. He lived in a city and on one occasion relatives came to attend a wedding, staying overnight at his house. Since the group was in the city, they thought it a good idea to do some sightseeing before returning to the country. That evening he was invited to sing and, imitating a famous comedian on TV at that time, he was a big hit with everybody.

The next day when he returned from school, his mother, without a word, slapped him three hard blows to the face. He couldn't talk, it hurt so much. Money had been taken from a wallet of one of the relatives, and she thought he was the culprit. The young boy remembered the reception he got for singing the night before, and now to be slapped in front of them all for something he did not do was an insult he couldn't bear. The relative had placed the money in another bag and found it later. But no one apologized to the boy for the false accusation and his mother never seemed to give the incident a second thought.

When the boy was hit, he couldn't forget the feeling of wretchedness, the look on his mother's face, and the laughter of his relatives. He can still recall the whole scene without difficulty, and understands how they all felt, thinking he was the thief. The difficulty is that no one, at any time, said a word of apology or showed any sadness for what happened. Why didn't anybody express regret, he wanted to know, for the false accusation. He broke down and cried. The columnist also cried.

It's a sad story that could easily have had a different ending. Many times a word or two of sorrow expressed for some hurt we have caused others can change how a troubling situation is ultimately perceived. But these words of sorrow do not easily form in our mouths. We hope that our kindness in the future will take care of the scars, but it doesn't usually happen that way. The incident is often repressed, and those who have been hurt do not forget. Those in our family and in the communities to which we belong are usually the ones we find the hardest to apologize to. Ironically, those who intend to do the right thing at all times, the perfectionists among us, have the most difficulty saying, I'm sorry. These few words would make a big difference in society. Spoken when necessary, these words can often defuse a threatening situation that otherwise might linger with us, causing problems--as it did for the ex-convict--for many years,and maybe for life. .