The Day I Had to Apologize to a Stranger
I joined a gym a few weeks ago and on this day I arose at 5:00am to go and do some light weight lifting and swim a few laps in the pool. After my workout, I finally went to the pool at 6:00am. There was no one else there so I was happy to get a lane and immediately took one lap to the very end of it. At the end of the pool was a glass wall dividing the pool and the gym area. When I reached the end of the pool lane, a man on the other side of the glass started tapping on the glass. I looked up and he was trying to say something to me. I could not see clearly, so I got out of the pool and walked up to the glass to see what he was trying to say. But I still could not hear him because of the thick glass separating us, so he used various hand gestures and I finally understood that he wanted me to get out of the pool. He obviously worked there and I assumed he was the guy at the front desk.
But why couldn’t I swim in the pool?
I concluded that perhaps because I was there so early, that the pool wasn’t open yet. Well I thought, “What is the point of joining the gym if I couldn’t even use the pool?” I was disheartened as I was greatly looking forward to this swim after my workout. I left the pool area and was psyching myself up to confront the guy at the front desk about what I assumed was this ridiculous gym policy of not allowing me to swim in the early morning hours.
I changed my clothes and as the minutes passed I was becoming more agitated, preparing myself to argue with someone about this.
Just as I was walking out of the Men’s Changing area, the man who had gestured to me at the glass wall was walking past the door with a cart on wheels and I realized he was the maintenance man and he said, “Sorry about that. The pool is closed because of broken glass.”
In my mind I accepted this reason, but then he continued, “There are signs all over the place.” Which in a millisecond I had interpreted to mean that I should have seen them, which in a small way I found insulting, like it was my own fault and I should have known.
Well my response was sharp and immediate. “Where are these signs? Show me the signs!” But he kept on walking with his cart to his work area and said, “I’m not going to show you these signs.” He was obviously responding to my confrontational brusque answer and attitude.
Well, I was annoyed and walked out of the gym.
As I was driving home, the exchange was upsetting and I was convincing myself that I had every reason to snap at this guy. But as I analyzed our words, I realized that it was I who responded in the wrong way. He was only trying to prevent me from getting hurt in the pool by the broken glass. He was giving me a warning to ensure my safety, but I had created a scenario in my mind and had psyched myself up to argue because I was deprived of my swim.
I was in the wrong.
After arriving home, I laid my head down to take a nap because I had risen so early, but I also needed to ponder the situation that had occurred with this man. When I arose, I was still disturbed and understood that I was wrong and my response was probably upsetting to him. After all he was only trying to help out a gym guest who only turned against him. I thought that I might have ruined his day and possibly put him in a bad mood. “What a jerk!” I reasoned he must have thought of me.
Then I realized that I was ashamed of my behavior and I couldn't avoid the inevitable. I needed to apologize to this man.
In the past, I would have dealt with this situation differently by just making excuses, blaming him and putting it out of my mind so I wouldn't have to face or be accountable for my bad behavior.
But as the Lord has been teaching me of late to be mindful of my words and actions and how they affect everyone and everything around me, I understood that my words and attitude had sent out negative waves aimed at this man and for me to do this was a sin. In my heart I knew it was like a slap to this man.
Jesus words came to me and the Holy Spirit was tapping me on the shoulder.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
- Matthew 5:23
I know many Christians apply Jesus’ teaching of “brother” to mean only members of their own church and faith but God has taught me that all people, male, female, white or black, rich or poor, gay or straight, saint or sinner, Christian or non-Christian…are my brothers and sisters because we are all created in His image and loved equally by God.
I knew I had to go and reconcile with my brother who I had offended at the gym. It wasn’t like God was a mother forcing her child to go to another child to apologize. God wasn’t forcing me. For my own sake, I needed to do it willingly. I knew I was wrong. I had hurt someone and made him feel crappy, perhaps even angry. I had passed my bad mood onto someone else. Would he pass that on to someone else as well? Did he say to himself "I hate this job" because of me?
In the past my shame would have made me avoid situations like this and I would purge my guilt from my mind to make them “go away.” But not this time. I had lived like this for too long. Spitting out venom and walking away. It had to stop. My way of not dealing with things and ignoring the consequences had to stop.
So now only a few hours after the incident, I got back into my car and drove back to the gym. Even as I was driving there, I was dreading it. Dreading that I had to apologize for my childish behavior to a stranger. Though I was getting nervous, I knew it was the right thing to do, yet my shame was trying to stop me, giving me all kinds of reasons why I didn’t have to go though with this. After all I was just a face in a crowd and maybe he would just forget about me and this incident. Or if I see him working around the gym, I could just avoid eye contact with him like he didn't exist. But all these excuses were obviously wrong. I had to do what was right in my heart. To reconcile with my brother because I sinned against him.
Well I walked into the gym and looked to find this man. I looked and looked and I couldn’t see him. Perhaps he was in the back room. Maybe he was on a break. I walked around and a small part of me still wanted to run away and perhaps I would be free from this uncomfortable act if he was not there. But I stuck around longer, searching the many faces. Finally I saw him on the other side of the gym. He walked into the pool area alone, so I walked across the room to follow him.
I walked behind him into the empty pool area and said “Hello, I’m the guy from this morning in the pool.” And I proceeded to apologize. “I'm sorry for my behavior this morning. I know you were only trying to help me by telling me about the broken glass but I thought that perhaps it was the policy of the gym that the pool was closed in the early morning hours. I was looking forward to my swim and so I was upset and getting ready to fight with someone about it. I am sorry. I know you were only trying to protect me. I'm sorry. I was a complete JERK. I hope I didn’t ruin your day.”
He was very gracious and said, “That’s OK. This kinda thing happens to me t00.” He was smiling and very understanding.
Well after saying sorry again and again, I shook his hand and I told him “Thank you.” I could tell by his face that he was accepting of my apology.
In the act of apologizing, I could feel that every trace of shame, embarrassment, guilt and bad feelings, just evaporated. I was surprised at how it all vanished instantaneously and was replaced by this feeling of friendship with this man who seemed to understand and forgive me.
As I walked out of the gym I was glad that I was able to do this. To me it was an important step I needed to take, at the same time, it was one of the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Even as I was leaving I was still thinking about how unpleasant that really was to apologize and I could have easily avoided the whole thing and let it pass, especially because he was a stranger, but my God given sense of doing the right thing wouldn't allow it.
I remembered other situations in my life where I had done or said something wrong but never reconciled with my brother and because of my inability to just say I'm sorry, many friendships and relationships became strained or dissolved over the years.
I already had years of experience of how my own behavior shaped my life and I knew that I needed to act differently than I had in the past for my own spiritual sake. I have been more of a failure than a success, and I have learned now that as each situation arises, I need to act immediately in the ways of the Lord and not repeat my past pattern of walking away from my wrongs.
I can’t guarantee that I will always do what is right at any given time, but this gives me hope that I am on my way to becoming a better person with God’s Spirit helping me one step at a time.
© 2017 Edrick
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