Clearing my Conscience

After fifty years, I guess it’s time for restitution

Today I am going to tackle the eighth step in the famous 12-step program. It’s the one that requires me to make a list of everyone I have harmed, and then be willing to make amends to them. No, I’m not following the tenets of the program because I have an addiction problem (unless you count Perry Mason reruns and cinnamon donuts.) I just find those steps to be so relevant and so useful for a wide range of challenges that occasionally I borrow one and apply it to my own life.

The first person on my list to whom I need to make amends is David M., concerning an incident that occurred way back when I was in 2nd grade. It was library day and I was sitting next to David at a large round table, quietly reading my favorite book, "Twig” by Elizabeth Orton Jones. Our weekly library time was just before lunch, and as was my usual custom, I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since breakfast. Needless to say I was about to pop! Squirming worked for a while, but finally I couldn’t hold it anymore so I just quietly "let loose.” Then I kept right on reading in hope-against-hope that no one would notice the small puddle under my chair or the fact that my right sock was dripping wet. But alas someone did notice, and a moment later my teacher knelt down at my side to ask me if I’d had an accident. Without taking my eyes from the pages of my book I calmly replied, "No ma’am. It was David.” As long as I live I’ll never forget that poor boy’s face as he was falsely accused of this dastardly crime.

Next I must make amends to Mike W. for an event that took place just three years later. Our fifth grade teacher customarily handed out our nightly homework assignment just a few minutes before the final dismissal bell. On this particular occasion we had a substitute teacher, and as the clock ticked down at the end of the day it became increasingly obvious that she’d forgotten the homework assignment altogether! We held our collective breaths. Five. Four. Three. Two. One…R-I-NNGGGG! Hot Dog! We jumped to our feet and beat it for the door. But then, just as freedom was within sight, Mike said, "Oh Miss, you forgot to hand out our homework assignment.” Drat that boy! Of course the whole incident would have long ago been forgotten had it not been for what happened next. Apparently I was not alone in my eagerness to express my appreciation to Mike. No sooner were we out the door than a group gathered around him. Someone pushed him down. And then before he could get to his feet, to my abject horror I, Lee Ann Jolly – the meek, the mild, the girl least likely to – hauled off and kicked him right in the stomach! I still can’t believe it did it, and just recalling the image brings me pain.

The third item on my list is a bit broader in terms of people affected. What’s more, the potential harm I have caused is immeasurable. I hope you won’t hate me when I confess this to you, but I have never – I repeat never – responded to a chain letter. Not in grade school, when failure to pass along the lucky leaf to the name at the top of the list meant that everyone’s dog would die from heartworms. Not in college, when refusing to send a dime to the first dozen names on the list threatened a total collapse of the free-market economic system. (Come to think of it, that system is under siege as we speak. You don’t suppose…) Not even as recently as last week when I deliberately deleted an e-mail request to forward my favorite recipe – knowing full well that untold millions of women would suffer from not knowing how to make my version of Apple Brown Betty.

According to the 12-step program, step number eight simply requires making a list of those we have harmed with the willingness to make amends. Step nine is where you actually have to take action. Unfortunately I have no idea how to contact David M. or Mike W. However, in the case of the chain letters, it’s likely that you may very well be one of the unfortunate souls I have unwittingly wronged. If this is the case, please accept my sincere apologies.

Whew! I feel much better having checked this chore off the list. And now I’m going to treat myself to a cinnamon donut.

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