About two months ago, standing outside of Eggs Etc. in Long Beach with Heron, my friend Stan Clouds, and Clouds’ fiance, and I experienced something you would never expect on a Sunday morning. I don’t know how else to describe it than to tell you the story. The following paragraphs are taken from my journal:
Today, I went to grab breakfast at Eggs Etc. on Redondo Avenue in Long Beach. We were waiting in line, watching hummingbirds fly into hibiscus, while Stan Clouds told us how he proposed to his girl in South Korea. Well, his girl is from South Korea — a country where their citizens work much longer hours than Americans — and then Clouds started to tell us that in Korea, no one has manners, and it took some adjusting for him.
“It’s not rude,” Clouds said. “It’s just cultural.”
I wanted to know why manners were unnecessary. I wanted to know why passing conversations were a luxury. I wanted to know how to react when pleasantries and manners were stripped away. Excited, I wasn’t just talking with my lips; I was talking with my hands. And I suddenly became aware that I had smacked someone behind me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. Turning around, I became aware that the person I had hit was a rock of a man. He was wearing a red T-shirt with rips at the shoulders, and he was bald. He didn’t respond. Just stared me down.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
This mountain of a man kept starting at me, and I could see in his eyes that my identity was not a reality, that he was looking past the corporeal, that he was blinded by the other side of sanity. He continued to stare at me without responding, without a casual, “No problem.”
So again, “I’m sorry,” I said. I still received the same blank stare as if he was about to pounce, taking aim on my face with his fist.
Meanwhile, cars were driving by on Redondo, passing with a burst of wind; people were eating their breakfast; plates of eggs and banana pancakes were dropped in front of hungry patrons; and this man was using his eyes to scan my soul. He walked right up to me, and his face was about a few inches from mine now.
“Don’t say sorry,” the man said, reaching out his massive hand.
Then I took his hand in mine.
“Don’t ever say sorry,” he said. His stare penetrated deeper. “I’ve traveled all over California. Been all around. And I know what sorry really means. I’ve been sorry before.”
I let go of his hand, but our eyes stayed locked.
“What you did,” he said, “was no reason to be sorry.”
Then we let go of each other’s eyes, like two dogs feeling each other out. Then he turned and walked away.
I looked back at Heron and my friends, realizing how close I was to real trouble. Realizing that this man was living in a mechanical world. Realizing that he understood more about forgiveness than I could know. Realizing that I had never, truly, been sorry like him.
“I thought you were about to die,” Heron said. “So glad you’re safe.”
Then the hostess called our name, and we sat down to eat pancakes and drink coffee, while the man walked on Redondo Ave. He was now shirtless — a rogue prophet.
That moment always stay with me. It was almost like I was on a crash course with him to teach me a lesson. If it was a dream, then he would be an archetype. And I’m not sure why I think about him today. Maybe I need to remind myself never to be sorry for the choices I make. I don’t know. I’ll never forget that day. The man wasn’t in our world — he was clearly sick — but I’ll always remember, “Never say sorry.”