The Things We Say
‘I’m so sorry- thank you so much’ The phrase rolls off my tongue.
I say it every time someone helps lift my walker in and out of a car. Every time someone holds the door open a little longer, to give me the chance to reach it. When people shift their chairs to make a path that my walker can fit through. When someone holds something for me, or guides me to the elevator in a building.
‘I’m so sorry- thank you so much.’
Even typing out the phrase brings a certain feeling of unease, of discomfort. When I speak those words, I speak them with more than a passing degree of desperation - they aren’t simply polite. They are an embarrassed apology and a desperate plea for forgiveness.
When they land on my lips I search for eye contact, for some sort of a connection, and then hastily lower my eyes.
There is nothing perfunctory about the exchange, and yet I say it more often than anything else. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the recipient of my words expresses irritation. There is nothing that they could do, or avoid doing, that would make my shame and desperation disappear. My feelings aren’t correlated to their words.
My feelings come from a lifetime of being told not to be difficult. Difficult, I learned, can mean being assertive, otherwise known as bossy or a know-it-all. Difficult can mean reserved, or reluctant to participate with the proper enthusiasm. Difficult can mean standing out. Difficult can simply mean different.
We are taught as kids to reach for the moon, to shine, to find and follow our passions. But from a very young age we learn how important it is to fit in. So in a sea of blue we might aspire to be the deepest navy or the most delicate periwinkle, but we certainly don’t want to be green.
If we stick out, it needs to happen within a certain framework. So I say sorry. I apologize for being different. I apologize for not fitting in the box the way I should. For requiring people to shift around me as I try to insert myself into their world, because mine doesn't seem to exist. I apologize for needing others to accommodate my presence.
And I say thank you. I try to express my gratitude fervently enough to break past any resentment or frustration, whether expressed or not. I try to be so appreciative that the task becomes less onerous. That my existence doesn’t detract too much from anyone’s day.
Do I really think that I need to justify myself in this way? Do I really think that my presence is such a disruption that I have to constantly apologize for it, and be endlessly grateful to others for accommodating it? Is taking up space so wrong?
While I want to loudly yell ‘no’, complete with a fist pump, I can’t. Because enough of me believes that the answer is yes.
To me, that’s a problem. I don’t think it’s right or fair and I hate that a part of me thinks that way. I want to change it.
So here goes.
Thank you so much for reading this post. I hope you found something in it that resonated with you. If not, that’s okay. I'm still appreciative that you read it.
I do not apologize for this post. I do not apologize for typing out my words. I do not apologize for the time it took you to read them. I do not apologize for taking up space.
And while that felt uncomfortable to type out, and while I erased and re-typed the words twice, worried that I was coming across too aggressive, too whiny, too much, I think that’s why I need to say it.
A synonym for accommodation is adaptation - to adjust to new conditions.
Life would be pretty boring if there were never any new conditions, and it would be rather alarming if we didn’t try to adjust to them.
None of us are immune to the need for accommodation, and none of us are exempt from providing it both for each other, and for ourselves.
So from now on, I'm going to try to stick to the Canadian version of 'sorry' -- a polite and versatile exclamation with none of the angst. And I will endeavour to keep my thanks simple, genuine, and devoid of shame.