Moments long gone

I suppose those who have had the misfortune to encounter me again after all these years may be asking one another: “What does he want from us?” But apart from their forgiveness, I don’t want anything at all. I don’t need their approval, we don’t need to meet, we don’t need to have a conversation or become lifelong friends. Nope, just forgiveness for what occurred in their presence, and all that then occurred afterwards.

If they could hear me, they would probably then gasp aloud: “Seriously? You reappear from oblivion just to say sorry?” But I would say there is no just, for an apology is never a simple thing. Truth be told, I was working on a novel all winter — on a fictional a tale, but one that must have emerged from my deep subconscious mind — and it left me with acute inner agitation, demanding that I make amends.

“But why now?” they might ask themselves, reflecting on the long passage of time that separates us from the events I describe. Years ago, I was very bitter about the whole episode and it took me a long time to get over it. By the time I had put it behind me, everyone had vanished into their own worlds and I had no way of reaching out, even if I had wanted to. Of course, I had no idea that two of the people had migrated two hundred miles south to the same city as me. Indeed, I had no idea that I now lived 2.5 miles away from the most significant of them.

In any case, perhaps all of this would have been left buried in the deepest recesses of my mind, had I not returned to writing fiction after a decade-long hiatus in the midst of national lockdowns. While Boris and his mates were enjoying cheese and wine in the gardens of Number 10, I was passing the time penning a novel, grasping for some kind of sanity, only to watch it morph into insanity instead. Before I knew it, I was wondering about folk long left behind. Who knew that they would suddenly slide into view?

“So what is this?” the might legitimately ask, “Is he apologising, or demanding an apology?”

It’s true that I am a man perpetually in two minds. Some days I blame myself entirely for all that happened back then. Other times I feel bitter, thinking I was the one who was wronged. Gauged against where everyone was then — and I am now — I would say I was more in the wrong than not. Measured against where I was then — and they are now — it could be said I really did nothing wrong at all. Between these two poles there is the truth: I made many mistakes, and so did they. But it’s not for me to demand restitution; my role is to apologise for all I did, and to forgive everything else. Easier said than done, I admit, but that is the path I am called to.

“Is he spinning us a yarn?” they might ask each other. “Is this guy for real? Or is he a troll, a sock puppet, a prankster playing us for fools?”

It could easily seem that way, especially with the discovery that our paths crossed in peculiar ways in the intervening years. Who would believe any of that? Coincidences of the highest order. For me, at least… as one who made the mistake of penning a novel in 1996 to help me overcome the despondent morass in which I found myself, cementing those events in my mind. But I should think they’re not so convinced. They probably don’t even remember me, let alone think it significant in any way.

Perhaps I just view the world differently, seeing things that others would just consider ordinary and commonplace. Perhaps I see design, where others only see random happenstance. For me, it’s a reminder from the Lord of all the worlds that there is more to life than the material realm. It’s a prompt for reflection and introspection from the One in whose hand is our soul, reminding us that we were put on this earth for more than watching football, drinking beer, gambling and lusting over luxury cars.

“So he’s trying to preach to us then?” they might ask themselves, reflecting on my sudden reappearance. But that was never my intention when I set out to apologise. In any case, it’s hardly my place to call back to strangers who have no reason to think anything good of me. Nevertheless, I do sincerely believe there is wisdom in their own inheritance and tradition if they wished to look back on it. I likewise believe there is wisdom in my own adopted faith, capable of turning lives around.

I know these companions of mine were never in the least religious, and never had any interest in religion whatsoever, but it remains the case that had our paths never crossed all those years ago, I would never have explored the faith of their forefathers for myself. Nor would I have subsequently invented a character for whom such a journey of faith was important and written about it so extensively. And perhaps without that fictional character in my life, I would never have embarked on my own journey of faith at all.

“This is all so weird, so whack!” they might ultimately conclude, and here I would agree with them, but such is life. Four months ago I wrote that if I had the opportunity to apologise to those once bothered by me, I surely would. Just two weeks later, I found myself with that opportunity. All of the rest, I could never have imagined. I did not ask to discover that we had been neighbours. I never expected to learn that the second most significant event of my life occurred two hundred metres away from the front door of one of them. I had to wait twenty-one years for that.

Twenty-one years to say sincerely, “I’m sorry.” To apologise for moments long gone, two hundred miles north.

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