As I opened my year-end e-mail, I was greeted with a letter that caught my attention - and my breath. So rare, it was. So simple, and so stunningly disarming.
It was an apology from a reader, who wrote:
"In going through my 'out' file the other day I came across an e-mail I sent you concerning something or other that I was obviously exercised over. I said to you, 'I used to think you were worth reading, etc., etc.' That was uncalled for and rude. I apologize."
I quickly wrote back: "What a nice way to begin the new near. Apology accepted. Thank you."
Few are the apologies I receive or extend, and the launch of a new year seems a good time to correct that oversight. But first a few observations about the nature of offense and the value of making amends.
I'm not sure how we became so rough or why, as a nation, we decided that manners don't matter. I'm not lecturing here. As with most of my columns, I'm really talking to myself. The fact that others read and react to my thoughts will always be a source of wonder to me.
When you sit alone in a room with a keyboard and think aloud, as it were, it is never with the idea of an audience. At least not for me. The thought of actual readers probably would render me wordless, a result many doubtless would applaud. Wait, I have their e-mail addresses right here!
Despite my newspaper affiliation, I've worked essentially alone the past 20 years, mostly from home (a pajamahadeen in the pre-blog era), tweaking the culture based on decades of reporting, experience and observation. For reasons that continue to baffle as well as humble, I've been granted a forum over time by readers who still take newspapers with their morning coffee. Bless their hearts.
Of all my mistakes through my years, the ones I regret most were errors of judgment and civility more than matters of fact, which are more easily corrected. As H.L. Mencken put it (and as Paul Greenberg recently reminded us in his lovely New Year's column): "Anyone can be accurate and even profound, but it is damned hard work to make criticism charming."
The temptation of clever cruelty is seductive. Oh, that turn of phrase that makes you slap your own thigh in delight. La Perp, at times, c'est moi.
But the arena calls for it, no? The masses want sangre! Or do they?