My pub­lic apol­ogy to Robert

The Compass - - OPINION -

Dear Robert: I owe you an apol­ogy. In my younger and more care­free days, I re­ally en­joyed play­ing prac­ti­cal jokes on peo­ple. How­ever, one such joke, un­for­tu­nately at your ex­pense, got out of hand and, to put it mildly, cre­ated quite a furor.

It was the 1970s and you and I were stu­dents at a Bi­ble col­lege in On­tario. At the time, if you will re­call, I thought you were ob­sessed with the Il­lu­mi­nati, al­legedly a se­cret or­ga­ni­za­tion that is seek­ing world dom­i­na­tion. Some of our fel­low stu­dents were be­com­ing scared and un­set­tled, so I de­cided to play a joke on you, to con­vince you the Il­lu­mi­nati was not a sub­ject wor­thy of such in­tense fo­cus.

I typed a let­ter that, in no un­cer­tain terms, ex­pressed con­cern that you were pry­ing into the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I then is­sued a cease and de­sist or­der.

“Fail­ure to com­ply with th­ese di­rec­tions,” I added, “will be met with se­vere reper­cus­sions. You have been warned!” As a fit­ting point of em­pha­sis, I at­tached my fin­ger­print in red paint and signed off with a name tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I mailed the let­ter to a pen­pal in Eng­land and asked him to send it back to you.

Some weeks later, one of our teach­ers ar­rived late for class.

“I apol­o­gize for be­ing late,” he said. “I’ve just been speak­ing with Robert, who's re­ceived a threat on his life from the Il­lu­mi­nati. He needs your prayers.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, news of the let­ter spread like wild­fire around the col­lege. Rather than ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity and apol­o­gize at that time, I re­mained silent.

I re­call, with horror, the day you told me you had gone out and pur­chased a life insurance pol­icy be­cause of your fear of be­ing hunted down and killed.

Robert, I’m cur­rently read­ing the book, “Pub­lic Apol­ogy,” in which Dave Bry grap­ples with a life­time of re­gret, one in­ci­dent at a time. Bry is sorry about many things.

He’s sorry for of­fer­ing fake drugs in the boys’ room in ju­nior high. For steal­ing a six-pack out of the fridge in a cou­ple’s garage. For re­joic­ing over the prospect that the town where his French teacher lived would be de­stroyed.

He’s also sorry for spit­ting a mouth­ful of ham­burger back onto his place in front of other cus­tomers in a bistro in Paris. “I’m sorry if I caused a scene, or worse, cost you any busi­ness .... It had been a weird week. You want so badly to be cool when you’re 12 .... I had a lot yet to learn about be­ing cool.”

For shun­ning a friend af­ter he got up in front of ev­ery­one and cried at the per­sonal growth workshop their par­ents had sent them to when they were in high school. “We made fun of you, as I’m sure you were aware,” Bry writes.

Bry claims to be a dif­fer­ent man now. He des­per­ately wants to come to terms with his past by mak­ing right a life­time of wrongs be­fore mov­ing on. He’s do­ing this by pub­licly apol­o­giz­ing.

Robert, I would like to think I, too, am a dif­fer­ent and, hope­fully, bet­ter per­son than I was in the 1970s. I re­al­ize now that, at the time I was cook­ing up this joke, I should have been do­ing more of what I had gone to col­lege to do in the first place, pre­pare for the pas­toral min­istry. I should have spent more time study­ing the Bi­ble and less time play­ing jokes on peo­ple. I should have de­voted more time to prayer, in an at­tempt to dis­cern the shape of my fu­ture. I should have paid more at­ten­tion in chapel to spir­i­tual things than to ways to scare the liv­ing’ day­lights out of you. I should have lis­tened more closely to my teach­ers at the col­lege and the pas­tors at the church I at­tended on Sun­days.

Be­cause hind­sight is per­fect sight, I can­not undo the past. But I can come clean by of­fer­ing you a pub­lic, sin­cere and heart­felt apol­ogy for my in­sen­si­tive act. Will you please for­give me?

Mean­while, if you want to read Dave Bry’s book, “Pub­lic Apol­ogy,” it is pub­lished by Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing of New York.

In the words of Rosie Schaap, a colum­nist with “New York Times Mag­a­zine,” the au­thor “shows us that com­pas­sion and ma­tu­rity start with con­tri­tion. If you’ve ever be­haved badly at a fam­ily gath­er­ing ... maybe it’s time to say you’re sorry. With abun­dant hu­mour, hu­man­ity, and voice all his own, Bry shows the way.” I know he has shown me the way.

Bur­ton K. Janes Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at


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