Once a year – as my birthday approaches – I think about two topics. Apology and restitution. I wonder should I apologise to the guy who sat in front of me at a school function and confess to him that it was actually I who had poked him with a pencil and not the boy whose teeth he mistakenly broke in retaliation?
Mistaken revenge is the theme of one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby, but I don’t think pencil-poking is in the same class as breaking up a family or two.
But what of the goal I once scored in a school soccer match when in the absence of instant replays or television coverage of any sort I got away with punching the ball into the net and became an instant hero. Years later, Maradona did the same in a World Cup match. So I decided that when Maradona apologises, I will too. Only, I can’t remember who our opponents were. Maradona probably has the same difficulty, given his diet since, and perhaps that is why he has not apologised.
Later in life, I once gave a rave review to a book I didn’t particularly like. Now it begins to get trickier. Whom do I apologise to? The writer, who has been using lines from the review on the covers of his later books? The publisher, to whom I might have to apologise later for apologising now? Or the readers of the magazine where the review appeared whom I deliberately misled?
When countries demand retribution for historical offences, this is an aspect that is glossed over. Do you apologise to someone many generations later or do you simply sit back in the hope that people will simply skip those pages of history and will not thank you for reminding them?
I once stole a poster from a hotel room in a US city. I can’t remember which city, but I know it was a great drawing by the sculptor Rodin. This is the only thing I have ever stolen from a hotel room, although I am told that many hotels feel insulted if you don’t pick up anything that isn’t nailed down. “Are towels not good enough for you to steal? The bedside lamp made no impression on you,” they ask with a sneer, suggesting the guest lacked the refinement to recognise a good thing when he saw it.
But back to the Rodin. It is still with me, and I feel a twinge every time I look at it as my birthday approaches. But I simply turn it to face the wall for a few days till the feeling passes and I regain my sense of entitlement again.