Recently I attended a concert in downtown Boulder, Colorado. It was a Friday night, and rather than my usual tendency to call it a day around eight in the evening, I was leaving my house to go stand in a crowded, smoky room and hear some live music. The pressure to have fun was on - does it sound like it was working?
Even in my younger (ahem) years, live music performances were always a little bit of a drag. Even though the main event often made the long lines and pushy crowds worth the trouble, most of the time I found myself irritable by the waiting time and the fact that I never wore shoes meant for long periods of standing.
This particular evening, I was especially on edge. There are so many reasons, though the details don’t matter that much. I was surrounded by people who were only exacerbating my already foul-ish mood. I blamed them all, from the swaying-too-wide dancers to the reckless college kids who couldn’t stop having a screaming-conversation over the blare of the bass. I felt myself succumbing to an overwhelming rage. I recognized it taking over and yet I felt fully powerless to suppress it, to ignore what was going on around me and to just have a good time despite the distractions.
After several more minutes of being shoved, pushed, stepped on, and nearly spilled on by inundated attendees, I’d had it. I was nearly ready to cop to the night being a loss when two women pushed their way into an invisible gap between me and the railing I was standing behind. Even though this entire story is a lesson in overreaction, I make no exaggeration when I say there was nowhere for them to stand and yet they pushed their way in anyway, half-toppling me backwards.
I’m embarrassed to tell you what unfolded next: I more or less shouted at this person for intruding on my space. The girl who was taking the brunt of my frustration, startled, turned around and said, Oh … sorry. Her genuine surprise told me she didn’t realize exactly what she’d done. She grabbed her friend by the elbow and quickly shuffled away.
Surprise, surprise, snapping at a complete stranger for something she didn’t do on purpose did not make me feel better. And why would it? Sure, maybe she was wrong without knowing it, but my reaction to her was unfair and I immediately knew it. Several songs passed and I was stewing in a haze of anger-turned-guilt. Why couldn’t I be kinder to people? Why couldn’t I remember that we’re all just the same, human and full of errors but capable of goodness?
I turned to my husband, standing behind me during everything that had transpired. I pulled his shoulder down to ask him something:
“Would it be totally weird if I apologized to that girl?” I asked. She was standing a few paces in front of us, her head bobbing in the crowd.
He shrugged and shook his head.
The thing is, it is a little weird to think about having a blankly human moment with another person, similar as we all are. Often we reserve our remorse and vulnerabilities for people who are actually in our lives, while strangers who are just a passing blip get the brunt of our inhumanity. But I felt undeniably compelled. It made me uncomfortable. Because admitting we're wrong is always hard, even when we know it. I knew I wouldn’t stop thinking about it until I did it.
I excused myself through the crowd and wedged my way through the twenty-somethings. “Hey,” I said, tapping her on the shoulder. She turned around, wondering if maybe I was going to continue being the insane person I’d been twenty minutes ago. I tried to look normal, but who knows.
“I snapped at you before,” I said. “And it wasn’t you. And I’m sorry.”
She smiled at me. “Oh!” she said, looking a combination of relieved and confused. “It’s okay!”
I nodded and tried to smile back a little.
“Well,” I said, “I just wanted to say that. See ya.”
She turned back to the stage and I made my way back to where I’d been standing.
I don’t think apologies are always meant to absolve us, but I immediately felt a weight lift off of me. All the things that I brought with me that evening weren’t gone. The problems I was stuck on weren’t resolved. But all of the previous annoyances I’d been clinging to began to dissipate. The amplified voices felt fuller, the crowd more animated. I was light again.
There’s a simple truth here: trust yourself. If you feel compelled to have a real moment with someone, even if it’s a person who only briefly interacted with your life, follow that moment through. Respond to that intuition. Be grateful that you can still hear that inner voice, that it still pulses within you, telling you, reminding you, this, this, this, now, now, now.
Helen Williams is a Colorado transplant who is passionate about vegan/vegetarian cooking, writing and sarcasm. She strives, every day, to be less sorry. When she's not in the kitchen or working on her new company Best One Yet (a vegan ice cream Vespa, coming soon to Longmont/Boulder, CO!) you can find her reading, getting outside as much as possible or trying to pet your dog.
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