Releasing Regret in the Smile of Reassurance and Brotherhood

Pete Hymans
Guest Contributor

I decided to attend my 50th college homecoming anniversary last fall.

I had not seen many of these people in 53 years, and as I meandered among the unrecognizable faces, a name from the past vibrated my ear-gear and the tympanum transmitted the code to my brain. An alarm bell went off … “BILL SMITH!!!!”

I had met Bill the very first day, as a fellow freshman at our dormitory where, over the months, all kinds of post-pubescent masculine craziness was perpetrated.

One Saturday afternoon a water balloon fight broke out and gathered momentum. Within moments every man on board was involved.

When the balloons ran out, boys were throwing fruit, baseballs etc. In a stupid moment, I grabbed a bottle of English Leather after shave and threw it into the asphalt paved courtyard where it (now-predictably) shattered. A large, jagged piece of alcohol-scented glass bounced and punctured deep into Bill Smith’s bare calf.

Of course – the pain came to him – of course I realized in a second, the consequences of my impulsive act. Bill came at me with the intent of telling me “what’s what” while probably rearranging some of my facial geometry.

It is notable to me now, how my self-preservation thinking so far outpaced my common sense. I said to Bill, “Wait! Let’s get you bandaged up.” There was some anger-overpowering aspect to my appeal that succeeded. We put some kind of dressing on the cut and later, I suppose, meandered off to a party somewhere and got lost in the Rainier Ale Old Stock (the Green Death) or some Old English 800 malt liquor.

He had pledged in one fraternity and I, another. We did not see much of each other and both worked our way up to graduation.

So when “Bill Smith” crashed into my awareness at the homecoming party, I waited for the right moment and then pulled Bill aside.

“Bill. How are you, man? I am Pete Hymans; Remember me?”

“Of course, Buster! How the heck have you been?”

“Great Bill and it is really good to see you. I have something I need to say.”

“Sure thing; what is it?”

“Bill I remember today as clearly as if it were yesterday … when I threw that bottle of English Leather cologne at you at the dorm.”

“Pete – I had forgotten all about that and -“

Wait! Let me complete this, Bill. I have carried the pain of that stupid act of mine all these years. I have felt shame and embarrassment at some level, every day. I am sorry for that stupidity and I regret you felt pain; it hurts to have disappointed you. I remember the look on your face. I cannot take my action back, but I want you to know I am truly sorry and I ask you to forgive me.”

“Wow! That is not necessary, Buster. As I said I had forgotten about it long ago. I am sorry we were not in contact so you could have done this before. Thank you, and of course I forgive you.”

The eye contact and subsequent hug were knee-buckling in their power and joy.

Those two minutes in time made it all the richer when the names were announced and shown on the video screen, of those fellow students who had passed away into eternity … out of reach.

That episode brought a big lesson in the formation in foundation of my character – a pivotal moment I had never forgotten and one which has made me always think consequentially at 2 or 3 levels before doing almost anything.

None of us knows when we will cross that threshold into the next phase of eternity. What I know for certain is that when the faces pass before me in my memory, when Bill Smith is there, his smile will be one of reassurance and brotherhood, rather than one of regret or something important left unsaid.

A Happy Reunion. Writer left of center in black shirt and blue blazer.

2 thoughts on “Releasing Regret in the Smile of Reassurance and Brotherhood”

  1. Thank you, Jim Ellis.
    If but one other person finds the opportunity to get a “Big One” off his chest I will be so pleased.
    The agony of doing something stupid lingers and stinks forever. The joy and mutual respect from
    “coming clean.” is sublime.

  2. Imagine if everyone spoke up directly and swiftly when they were feeling regret. Imagine all those subtle and not-so-subtle gaps being closed. Unity exists beneath it all. When we err, it can take so little to return. All it takes is a few words and the willingness. Thank you Mr. Hymans for showing us the way.

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