Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shame

Yesterday I walked the length of West Edmonton Mall twice in an effort to burn off some calories. During that walk I remembered an encounter at the mall's Orange Julius, an encounter that in turn reminded me of an incident that still shames me.

I was fourteen or fifteen years old when the members of Leduc Junior High School's gifted program were escorted into a minibus for a field trip. One of the girls in the program sat down next to me, smiled, and for reasons I can't understand or explain, I left my seat and retreated to the back of the bus. My friend Mark threw me a well-deserved look of disgust and sat down with the girl, who was visibly upset by my behaviour.

I don't know why I shunned her, someone I barely knew, someone who had never harmed me. It might have been shyness or maybe I just wanted to be alone and couldn't bear the social burden of conversation; I really don't know. All I know for sure is that I hurt her feelings.

Years later - sometime during my university years or shortly afterward - I ran into the same girl, now an exceptionally beautiful young woman, working at the Orange Julius in West Edmonton Mall. We exchanged greetings and shared stories about what we'd been up to since junior high. She was exceptionally gracious and kind, which of course only shamed me further. I tried very hard to apologize for my aberrant actions, but the words formed a thick, sickly lump in the pit of my stomach and wouldn't budge from that dark sanctuary.

To compound my sins, I'm not even sure I remember her name; if I had to guess, I'd say it was Monica, or maybe Meredith. I do remember the look of bewildered hurt and betrayal on her face, and her kindness those few years later.

There's an old Superman novel by Elliot S! Maggin in which he introduces a simple axiom:

There is a right and a wrong in the universe, and the distinction is not very difficult to make. 

I always admired that philosophy, but as I've grown older I realize that life is more complex. There's a right and a wrong in the universe, sure; that the distinction isn't difficult to make, maybe, under most circumstances. But having the strength to do the right thing...sometimes ordinary humans just don't possess it. My moral compass certainly failed me twice when it came to my interactions with Monica/Meredith, and I regret it to this day.

4 comments:

Tammy said...

Obviously your moral compass doesn't fail you often if you still remember that circumstance. I think people with good consciences torment themselves over these kind of situations. If only more people were like that and cared so much about the feelings of others.

Glad you got to talk to the Orange Julius girl again : )

AllanX said...

Mark is a knight. I hope he got some for that.

You, on the other hand...contemptible.

Earl J. Woods said...

That's very kind, Tammy, thank you.

Allan - being a knight, I don't think Mark was looking to "get" any. He certainly deserved some karma, though!

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

Our church leadership group recently read a book about communication and planning, and one of the axioms in it was this simple but profound truth: "surprised people behave badly".

When a cute girl sits next to you whilst you are firmly in the grips of adolescent angst, and smiles, no less, you are caught off guard.

And not to excuse your behaviour, but there are a lot worse ways that could have played out. The fact that you can still recall the incident with such clarity so many years later, and appreciate the feelings of the other person, is the truest indicator of your considerable character.