Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Astonishing Human Capacity to Be Sorry

Photo Credits Steinar Engeland

I work in a busy office as a receptionist - as Gatekeeper, I greet clients, answer phones, field questions, confirm meetings and deliver documents.

All this is secondary, I feel, to my higher calling of whispering prayers, calming nerves, deescalating anger, floating grace, smiling at strangers, finding humor and sometimes bringing cookies to fellow staff.

Now that retirement is pulsing like a tiny blip on my radar, I certainly cannot coast. A dear friend has cautioned me against coasting: "Stay on your game," she warns, "Don't go into neutral. Your lifetime of experience and people-skills are still needed 100 per cent." 

Oh, great.

So I'm staying in the game and there are days, like last Thursday, that push me to the brink of desperation. People disappoint. Life is unfair. Bad things happen.

Last Thursday was one for the books -- depressing and raw; loud and irritating; heartbreaking and shrill.

A client stormed in, visibly riled up.  The man, larger than life, filled my reception window. 

I remember I stood up, as if answering a call to battle. 

Everything went silent. 

Except for the rage spilling from this broken man. He reminded me of a Viking, ruddy with wild red hair, ice blue eyes and a determined jaw.

Two things happened.

First, the security guard walked over to my post and stood vigil. Silently, his presence eased my nerves and filled me with courage.

Second, the angry man continued his rant, increasing his volume, demanding answers. 

It was like watching a sea of emotions, all salt and waves, yet not being in the sea.  

Joe, the security guard, remained a sentinel at my side, saying nothing. I knew he was calmly waiting for Viking Man to run out of steam.

And he did.

He ran out of steam and his eyes, those eyes, they were still desperately pleading.
Without incident, we got him settled in the waiting room until another worker would come to speak with him; to answer his questions.

It shook me, of course. But more than that, it called up a visceral compassion in my gut. This man wasn't attacking me, he was crying for help. In his world, all the resources meant to assist him, were failing him. He felt trapped and abandoned.

All that anger with no place to go.

It just so happened that Viking Man spilled his pain in our agency, at my window.

The day got worse from there, with a series of mishaps, a few mistakes, a flurry of difficult phone calls and a slog through the icy air to my car at the end of an impossibly long day. My emotions were fried, my body aching from tension.

And then came Friday.

I drove into the office, mentally rehearsing what my friend had said: "Don't coast, Kathy. Give it your best and remain present until your last day. You'll be glad you did."


Guess who came to my window -- again. The Angry Viking. Only this time, he wasn't all thunder and bluster.  No - this time, just one day later, he still loomed large, filling my window. But he was noticeably solemn.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said.

He was a mountain of pure humility.

"I didn't mean to scare you," he said. "You see, I have Bi-polar Disorder. When my meds aren't managed well, I really, really struggle."

He paused.

"I know I was inappropriate when I came in before, and I just want to apologize."

And terribly sorry for how his behavior had affected me.

Seriously. Just when I'm about to give up on people, they come through and surprise me.

The security guard, Joe, silent sentinel of strength. He had my back.

The Viking Man. He yelled at me, but really he yelled at his situation and I was there to bear witness. And then he was sorry, and he manned up and showed up and delivered the sweetest apology.

I wonder how many more surprising things will happen between now and Retirement?

I guess I'll need to keep showing up to see.

Photo Credits Michael Olsen

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my newly-launched book, "Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers".


  1. My heart goes out to both petrified you and wild red Viking Man. And Joe is your security angel. It is rare to get a sincere, intentional apology. The one time I tried to do that, I nearly died. Isn't it best to let sleeping beasts lie? (er) Good man, that Viking.

  2. Thank you. I was scared, but I think that big guy was frightened of his own anger. To confront it with a simple “I’m sorry” took a huge dose of humility on his part. Human connections remain a mystery and a blessing to me!