I used to say “I’m sorry” too much. I used to say it for the silliest things, and sometimes I still do. But, for reasons I can’t identify to myself, I’m not so much of an apologizer or people-pleaser any more. (Those two things seem to go hand-in-hand.) It may have something to do with learning from a man I married who is (refreshingly) not a people-pleaser. (He’s a wonderful man, as you know, but he’s not about to apologize for his existence, the way I used to.) It may have something to do with my kids. Having twins allows me to study the nature vs. nurture effect on a daily basis. They’ve shown me that the people-pleasing-thing is not so much about nurture, but rather, nature. Despite having almost identical experiences their first several years, one twin has it in him to be socially tuned-in constantly and the other, most times, seems socially oblivious. There are drawbacks and benefits to both ways. But when I once noticed the socially sensitive one saying he was sorry for things he ought not feel sorry about, I realized I better watch myself. I don’t want him learning it from me.
One of my best friends, who I’ve known since junior high, told me recently that I come across as more guarded than I used to be. It made me feel a little sad, but I also feel like the shift has been necessary for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. I think this has something to do with my shift as a people-pleasing apologizer. I certainly still want anyone who comes into contact with me to find me a nice, compassionate person. But, these days, I’m just now learning how to engage socially without feeling like my real “self”" has to disappear. Many times, this means not apologizing as a reflex like I used to.
What strikes me about how much I used to say “I’m sorry” is that I never said it at the times I really should have. Here is where I’ll lose some readers: I’m about to describe a dream. Creative writing teachers, including myself, always say dream sequences are very tricky to pull off; most time, you’ll lose your audience. So for those who want to check out now: Goodbye.
The dream was that I was standing in a field and the words I’m Sorry came flying silently out of my mouth in the shape of butterflies. Like, the “I” was the wide part of the left wing, and the letters kept getting narrower to the middle, and then they got wider again, until the “Y” was parallel to the “I” on the right wing. (Uhg, This is hard to describe.)
Anyway, the butterflies flew out of my mouth and fluttered around until they landed on flowers, which were also different people from my past. Some were near me in the field, some were further away.
I’ll never forget the beauty of the field in this dream and how peaceful I felt when I woke up. But then, I felt sad. Because most of those apologies landed on people I may never see or hear from again, or people who would not even want me to remind them of the past.
You know I used to write poetry, Katie. If I haven’t lost our readers after the dream sequence, I’ll lose them now, because I’m going to end with a poem I wrote about the dream. Double-whammy for cutting someone’s attention-span. I apologize. (hehe. get it?)
Too Late (2003)
If I could say I’m sorry
for those things of which I cannot speak,
things that may not be otherwise known,
maybe I would have
just enough peace
to get me to sleep.
in flight, mind soars
like those two little
words with wings.
All of the sorrys in the world
that won’t be said
escape and flutter and land
on those who wait.