I was in the elevator, the door opened, and I started to walk out but stopped abruptly. Someone was standing there, waiting to get on, and we began to move at the same time. We both let out a startled, oh! and jumped back. There was an awkward moment of silence, and then I said it.
I don’t know why the words came out of my mouth. A gag reflex, perhaps? An impulsive reaction that can’t be helped or silenced? The words were out of my mouth before I realized I was saying anything at all.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She shook her head and said no, it was her fault. She wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention either, lost in my own head, as usual, so I apologized again, and she did as well. It became this weird apology-off. Who could say it the most times? Who would say it last? How do we decide who wins?
Elevator etiquette would suggest that she was in the wrong. You let people get off before you get on. That’s the established norm of our particular culture. Hence, as she pointed out, the apology was her’s to make so, I bowed out of our little showdown with a wave of my hand and a casual, no worries.
It happens. Damn phones! Don’t get me started on the hypnotic power of technology. In other words, don’t worry about it, it was a harmless mistake, and I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time.
The one thing we did agree on was that this was the most Canadian interaction we’d had all day. It was only 9AM but still so patriotic.
People are under the impression that Canadians say Eh as a way of punctuating our sentences. And, in some parts of the country, that’s true. But I don’t think it’s the phrase I hear most often. It’s not the one word that traverses our large plot of land with ease. No, my friend, if you want to pick a Canuck out of a crowd, listen for this one word: Sorry.
If you hear, “Yeah, no, sorry, eh.” Then you’ve hit a gold plated maple lead!
I don’t know why we do it? I don’t know when I started doing it. When did my immigrant arse assimilate and apologize out of reflex? Or, is that reflux? It does feel like oratorial regurgitation mixed with vomit. And now that you have that image in your head…Uh, sorry?
Someone will bump into me, and I’ll apologize. I’ll open the door for someone, and they’ll say sorry, thanks. Way too often, I apologize without knowing why, but the word is already out of my mouth. I haven’t even registered that someone is standing in front of me. I could say hi, howzit, or the classic sup, but no, I apologize, and it’s met an equally enthusiastic apology.
Have I given it a lot of thought before now? Other than a few jokes said in good fun, nope. It doesn’t come up that often, but apparently, I have too much time on my hands. So much introspective time, arg! There are way too many thoughts bouncing around my head.
One of those musings is: why the hell did I just apologize for walking off an elevator? They apologized. We apologized in unison. It was a mutual apology for reasons that do not require forgiveness or, at least, it didn’t warrant the profusely expressed compunction. It was a shit happens situation, but the words still came out of our mouths. We tried to one-up each other in our begs for pardon. A competition for atonement?
It is getting out of hand, and it might be time to reevaluate this compulsive need to ask for forgiveness.
Sure, it’s a cultural thing, and it’s based on reasons but, we’re taking it too far. Oo, hold up, blanket statements don’t fit every mattress or something like that. Don’t tuck everyone into that bed, please and thank you. Right! That’s good advice, I’m sorry.
Yes, I know, I apologized again and…Sigh.
How about this? I might be taking it too far. Is that a better way to say it? Why, yes, I think it is, thanks. You’re welcome. Oh, but let’s be bold! I’m rarely bold, and this seems like the right time to try it out. Maybe, and feel free to disagree, I should stop apologizing for doing things like, I don’t know, taking up space or existing.
What a concept! And perish the thought. I’m pushing things a bit too far, too fast. Slow it down, or you’ll pop something. Too late, I think I pulled a hammy trying to sprint down the back straight. That twinges! Don’t apologize for taking up space? Geez, zero to sixty on a tricycle is asking for a bit much.
Sorry. Was that a sarcastic apology? I don’t know anymore!
Fine, yes, it was inching towards sarcasm, but that statement makes me feel uncomfortable. Yikes, I don’t like it at all. Stop apologizing for what now? I don’t do that. Really? Seriously? Fine, I do, and I should stop, but…Ew, it feels icky.
There’s a joke in here somewhere. A Canadian saying that it’s time to stop apologizing is like telling a tortoise it needs to come out of its shell. You need to soften that hard shell of yours, buddy. It’s keeping the world out and your feelings locked in. It’s just not healthy. Come on, pop your head out for a simple second.
A tortoise with social anxiety? It’s on the couch, talking with a therapist about its feelings. This needs to be a thing. It needs to be a cartoon or an animated series! How is that not on the Tube yet? If you’re a talented individual, feel free to run with the idea and breathe life into tortoise therapy.
Sorry, got off track there for a moment. Do you wanna know why? I don’t like uncomfortable emotions, and whenever they pop up, I distract myself. Silly imagery eases the tension and confuses the audience. If you’re confused, then you won’t see how uncomfortable I am. It’s a smokescreen that no one can see through!
Except, everyone who’s looking? Nah, you can’t see my silly deflection techniques. They’re so cleverly disguised.
What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep apologizing? Cultural quirks aside, I don’t know why that one word comes out of my mouth so often. When I try to keep it in, it triggers a bout of anxiety, and I feel the need to scream, or I’ll rupture something vital. Why?
I feel like that tortoise who’s retreated into its shell only to find that the boiler is overheating. Its home is about to combust. The only way to save the day is to stick its head out and yell, I’m so sorry for being in this space with you! Which sounds so… Arg, I don’t like how that sounds at all.
Weak. Vulnerable. Pathetic. Is it time for a mental health check?
But the feeling is kind of comfortable, which is odd. The need to apologize feels like a warm blanket on a snowy day. Snuggly. Safe. A security system that keeps me safe when everything around me feels anything but secure or reassuring. Does that make sense?
Apologizing for taking up space is, in large part, an issue with self-worth and self-esteem. I’m not the most confidant person in just about any arena. Except for hospitals or emergency situations. If there is a crisis to be managed, then you want me around. If you want to see me shine, then drop me into the middle of chaos, and I will rule the day.
It’s a strange quirk of mine.
I’m absolute rubbish in basic, everyday scenarios. The quiet, tranquil, easy-peasy lemon squeezy kind of days baffles me. Alarms screaming, blood gushing, people running around with their pants on fire? I’m calm, collected, and nobody panic! I’ve got this like the little weirdo that I am.
So, yes, there’s a giant chasm in my self-esteem that needs paving over. I’m a freakin tortoise who’s having an identity crisis. There’s a hard shell on the outside but a soft, tender, gooey inside. I want to be fierce, confident, but I’m feeling the exact opposite. I’m being a burden and taking up too much of your time, as well as your emotional space.
Is that true? It’s a feeling and a thought pattern if, nothing else.
Having a chronic illness means that I’ve often been reliant on others for so many things. Rides to appointments that will leave me too woozy to drive myself. I’ve needed help showering because I’m too weak after surgery to bathe myself. Right now, I need someone to go and get my groceries because my immune system doesn’t work, and I can’t risk going outside.
These are a few examples of needing help when all I want to do, to be, is independent and self-sufficient. But I need help and asking triggers those feelings I’d much rather avoid. Like, being a burden or taking up too much of your time, energy, and space. These are my feelings, and they have no basis in reality because I’m fortunate to have people who want to help me.
I am loved, and I am so grateful for that, for the people in my life. But I still apologize for taking up space, time, energy?
I’m loved, wanted, and valued by the people in my life. I apologize for taking up space, being vulnerable, and existing. How are those two realities compatible? They aren’t. Well, one is based in reality, and one is based in emotion.
Emotion triggers the knee jerk reaction, and I disappear back into my shell. I protect the soft, gooey, tender parts from the outside world. My hard shell? It doesn’t really keep the pain out, but it does stop me from experiencing the love and acceptance that’s out there. There’s also the boiler that’s about to blow but let’s deal with one problem at a time.
When I do come out, take a look around, I see that most people value my existence. Sure there are the few people who choose cruelty over kindness, but the majority flips the script. They choose kindness over cruelty every damn time. The former gets the most attention because they’re so loud. That’s why, perhaps, I got used to apologizing for taking up space.
That’s the hardest thing, seeing the good when the bad is so loud, but when we shift our perspective and look at the good? We’ll see that there’s no reason to apologize. We are wanted, needed, and valued by the vast majority. We aren’t taking up space or wasting their valuable time. In fact, I’ll be bold one more time and say that we are adding value to their time by sharing our existence.
I can’t tell you how many people have made my day better by simply being there. Friends and family come to mind, but a few strangers as well. The other day I had to risk it and go out to run a couple of errands. Waiting in line, I talked to a woman for a few minutes, and it was a silly conversation. It was a nothing conversation, but she made me smile. She lifted my mood out of the grey and back into the technicolour.
By being there, existing in that moment, she added immeasurable value to my day. If she can do that, then what can I do for someone else without even realizing it? What will your presence do for someone? I can guarantee that you’ve improved someone’s day without even realizing it. Your mere existence lifted them up and made them smile. You’ll never know it, but you turned someone’s day around by being present in that moment.
If our existence has the power to do that then, why are we apologizing?
This will be a note to myself as well as you, my dear friend. You aren’t taking up space; you’re enhancing it. You are making your corner of the world better by simply being in it. You’re compassionate heart, warm smile, and kind words will save someone’s life one day.
So, stop apologizing for being here, existing, taking up space, or being who you are. Who you are, is what we need right now.