Have you ever said something, and as soon as the words left your mouth you wish you could take them back? I have. And what typically comes next is a visceral response. Something like a shiver runs through my entire body. And I hope that those within earshot will know that, despite the words just uttered, I am a sane, rational, decent person.
I had to apologise to a neighbour the other day because I wasn’t careful with my words. Fear clouded my judgment when he came to ask if there were any vacant apartments on the building. Not even the cute baby girl he was holding in his arms was enough to let me lower my guard. I didn’t recognize him as the family man who good-naturedly watched as his kids played with my dog during our evening walks. From inside the safety of my home, he was a man I did not know, standing a few feet away from my barely-cracked, reassuringly-grilled window. So before he could get a word out, I hurriedly stated my case. “No, I don’t have any apartments for rent,” I said. I’d received a call from the tenant at the front of the building who told me there was an enquiry about a vacancy. So when I saw the stranger I continued a conversation that he and I had not yet begun. No ‘good afternoon’, not even ‘may I help you?’.
My grandmother would not have been pleased with me.
One look at his face and I knew I’d made a mistake. He looked wounded and confused and I felt that familiar shiver when he said in a quiet voice, “I’m the one whose kids your dog plays with.” I prayed for the earth to swallow me whole. I’d failed to recognize someone I should have. But, even worse, I’d been unnecessarily rude.
I saw him and his kids in the neighbourhood a few days later and tried to explain. “Yes,” he said accepting my apology with quiet dignity, “you were not very friendly.” And then he delivered a master shot. “I’ve found that people in Montego Bay are not as friendly as where I’m from.” He’s from Portland he tells me, and I don’t know a lot about the parish so I decide it’s time to stop talking before I make matters worse and further sully the name of Montego Bay, the (once) friendly city.
Sometimes when you stick your foot firmly in your mouth, you are so ashamed of your behaviour that it takes a while to build up the courage to apologize. Better late than never, but best to apologize early because the longer you wait the harder it becomes.
I watched as Opposition Senator Dr Andre Haughton was vigorously pilloried in the media this week after initially refusing to apologize for comments made on October 4 during an otherwise commendable Upper House discussion surrounding breast cancer awareness month. I’ve seen the video and found his declaration that he is “a breast man” jarring, out of whack with the rest of his comments. It just didn’t fit, logically, and it came across as crass. It made me shiver and it wasn’t even my foot that was stuck in my mouth.
I felt that same shiver when Justice Minister Delroy Chuck — whose daughter is the attorney for some of those held — criticized law enforcement officers’ early-morning home raids that later led to the arrest of five people including former Education Minister Ruel Reid. Chuck used words like salacious and Nicodemus (a biblical character whose name conjures up an image of a thief in the night) to describe the law enforcement team’s actions. Himself a lawyer, he withdrew his comments a day later, saying they had been inappropriate coming from the Justice Minister. But the damage had already been done.
As someone who also recently suffered a case of foot in mouth disease, I can empathize with both men… but only up to a point. In that regard, I am similar to my apartment-hunting neighbour who still hasn’t forgiven me for being rude. He looks at me with different eyes now. And I still feel a twinge of embarrassment when I see him. I wonder how Senator Haughton and Minister Chuck feel…
I’m a marketing and communications professional with almost a decade in journalism. After more than 14 years of living and working in China, I happily came home to Jamaica in summer of 2019. In this weekly column, I share snippets of what it’s like seeing Jamaica and sometimes the rest of the world through my eyes.
Charmaine N. Clarke