In the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company," Bobby- the protagonist- is in flux. Like most of us, he's afraid to make a move in any direction. Before "Sorry/Grateful" Bobby asks his friend Harry if he's sorry he got married. His response: "You're always sorry, you're always grateful. You're always wondering what might have been- then she walks in." I think the same works for life: A collection of oxymorons that never cease to help us backpedal. I don't know how to ride a bike but I know that the backpedal is supposed to make the bike stop. We spend too much time trying to stop, just as we begin to build momentum. (Then she walks in.)
That's fear. I think somewhere between being sorry/grateful, there lives a Pandora's Box of the "what might have been"s. In that way, "she" is opportunity and we are all just coping with sorry- for the moments we've lost and grateful- for the moments we let grow into something.
I have a mason jar of "sorry:" impressively preserved apologies held under a tightly sealed lid, in their original form. Each "sorry" belonging to proper and improper nouns (much like the actions that warrant such apologies). Sorry saved for the moments I bump into a chair, skid into a human, aggressively walk around a timidly standing tourist (sorry--not sorry?). Sorry saved for the moments I let my head grow wild with bad ideas and begin to float away. (Two sorries there: Sorry for the bad idea and sorry for flying away with it). Sorry for things I can learn to control. Sorry for the things that are out of my hands. I have racked up a list of "sorry" that has turned my "gratefuls" into envy. But I am. Grateful, that is.
I have come into this habit of drawing a heart in the 'U' of my left hand, with my first grateful thought each day. I feel like that's something Oprah would totally get behind and I'm really all for making Oprah happy. (Sidenote: Oprah believes that you should recount your day in five happy thoughts each night before you fall asleep. I find that makes me very sleepy. And also prefer to end my day with the person who makes me happy). Oprah aside, the hand-heart usually goes unnoticed. But when there are students who see you daily, or people with hand-fetishes, certain eyes begin to notice the heart and when it is gone. That involuntary slip worries me: Far too worried about other people's perceptions of me, I don't want to be seen as anything other than grateful. Even when I haven't realized it yet, I always am.
I know that sounds a little "hoakey" but I am. I get it from my mother: It's the little things that make us happy. I'm grateful for nights with several cups of tea or conversations full of laughter. I'm thankful for comfy pajamas and arts and crafts. I'm thankful for the places I've been and where I'm standing now. I think the ability to withstand the "sorry" is what makes us most "grateful."
I also think it's time to eliminate "sorry" from our vocabularies.
In the new Pantene commercial, 'Not Sorry' the Shampoo ad has a handful of women, with pretty hair, who apologize for their every action. Then the commercial says "Don't be Sorry: Be Strong and Shine," followed by the same sequence, sans "sorry." The elimination of weak and unnecessary apologies turns the female voice, in this commercial (and out), into something more assertive. Something stronger.
I'm grateful for the opportunities to be stronger. And sometimes I wonder if they come without the "sorry." Without first knowing what it is like to be weak, to be wrong, we don't know what it is like to turn around and exhibit an unparalleled strength.
I'm learning to be stronger. I'm coming to a point in my life where I'm not afraid to speak up. As a child, first I was timid. I ate in secret, embarrassed by the idea of being seen in public. I grew into a person certain she could maintain that visual perfection: Without basic human needs because needs make us weak. Then, when I began college I was a pushover: Determined to show that I could handle anything. Constantly sexiled (check Urban Dictionary if you are unsure the meaning) and afraid to ruffle feathers, I would apologize for trying to enter my own room, after a full day of classes and work. I would eventually spend my evenings on the floor of the lounge. Sorry, I've found, leads to bitterness. The feathers we refuse to ruffle begin to creep up on us.
Taking on someone else's ruffled feathers doesn't make us stronger.
But I fight other people's battles far better than I do my own. I am full of suggestions and an excellent advocate but rarely for my own causes. And I find that, when my voice gets lost in mumbled crowds, there is no one to apologize to me. So I stand in a puddle of my own sorries until the rain dries up.
But it is a terribly rainy summer. The brand new holes in my only remaining shoes are a constant reminder that the clouds will dim too early and the day will be left hiding under awnings and re-watching The Gilmore Girls (no shame there). And maybe my advice is finally catching up with me. Maybe I have finally withstood enough unapologetic rain.
Slowly I have begun asking for the things I need. Convincing myself, not that the people who care about me will have already remedied them- but that those same people will, instead, make my needs a priority. I think it's safe to say that need isn't necessarily an indication of weakness but an understanding of who we are.
Starting today, I won't apologize for the things I need. And you won't apologize for the way things are. It's time, instead, to make it better.