Sorry That I Wasn’t Sorry

Should I have stopped?

“Why don`t people look?”  Her voice was an angry, rasping whisper. She was talking to me. Not directly. But still, that salvo was clearly aimed at me.

I was hustling through the grocery store at noon on a Wednesday, running one of five “quick” errands I was wedging into the middle of my workday. Strawberries, apples, potatoes, a yam, broccoli, a roasting chicken, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch bags. I had run a circuit of the store and was exiting the magazine aisle when I met a motorized scooter and the white-haired lady driving it. I walked in front of her. I didn’t stop or step aside. I stepped deftly around her and continued marching toward the self-scan checkout.

Why don’t people look?

She was frail, with wispy hair cropped close to her head. Glasses. She might have had an oxygen tank. I don’t know because I was in too much of a hurry. There was something vaguely familiar about her face, but it didn’t dawn on me until several steps later, about the same time that I actually heard her words.  Does this happen to you? Someone speaks, but the words slide past because your cell phone is ringing or your eyes are on your child who is flying slightly too high on a swing at the park. Or you are singularly focused on getting to that grocery check-out. You are distracted, and then suddenly the words cross into your consciousness.

Why don’t people look?

And I realized who it was. Years ago, we`d sat together on the board of directors for a local business women`s association. She was the elder stateswoman with a caustic wit and get-the-job-done common sense. I was a junior lawyer just launching my career: young, wide-eyed and clueless. I quit two years later when my first child arrived, quick to leave community behind intent on motherhood. But I remember her, I remember her – what was her name?

Why don’t people look?

When I finally did hear her, I may have slowed down a beat. I may have. I probably should have felt guilt or shame, I realized it even then. A sense of regret that I didn’t extend my usual apology and good-humour: Oh my goodness! I almost ran you over. I’m sorry! They ought have a stop sign at the end of these aisles. And maybe install some rearview mirrors, too. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything. I just kept moving, feeling time-pressured and numb. I have kids to feed. A job to do. A house to clean. I felt nothing, but sorry that I wasn’t sorry.

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