I grew up as the only child in my home. My older brother and sister were gone by the time I was two years old. We lived in rural areas, so I didn't have a lot of playmates. I learned at a young age to entertain myself. I had an active imagination that kept me occupied. I read books. I was seldom bored.
Unfortunately, I never had a lot of chances to hone my social skills, being all by myself like that. Having kept to myself so very much, I seemed odd to most of my peers. I was different, even I knew it. I was always saying the wrong thing, talking too loudly, saying something totally inappropriate. I did not take criticism well, so when someone tried to straighten me out, whether kindly or unkindly, I simple drew back into my shell. The soul, as Emily Dickinson wrote, selects her own society, then shuts the door.
There have been periods in my life when I was comparatively gregarious, usually those times when I had a very active church life or when I was holding down a job. When you put yourself in the midst of people, you get used to them, adapt somewhat, and enjoy it. Or else flee.
It was my choice not to endanger society by getting a driver's license, so I don't get out and about much without Cliff, my faithful chauffer. It isn't at all unusual for me to spend a week at home without leaving the property except perhaps for a trip to the grocery store or church. The more time I spend away from others, the harder it is to relate to them. Oh, I do great online. I'm a regular social butterfly. But you get me out of the house and put me in a crowd of real, live people, and I don't have a clue how to make conversation with them most of the time. Must I look them in the eye? That's always been hard for me. Did I remember to comb my hair?
The past few years, I became more of a hermit than at any time in my life. There were neighbor kids around all the time, trespassing on the property, stealing my morel mushrooms, peeking in the windows as they cut through the yard. I became almost paranoid about my lack of privacy. Some of my longtime readers will remember my cabin in the woods: That was a getaway for a paranoid old lady who was ready to check out of society, dig a cave, and never come out. We are living in this trailer house because there was no way to get out of the public eye at our old house. Kids, noisy kids everywhere.
They are not around any more.
Over the past few months I've been asked to sing at church a couple of times, so I dug up some old songs I wrote thirty years ago and went through them, singing each one in turn and trying to decide which to sing. One of my favorites of all the gospel songs I've written begins like this: "You can memorize the Bible and try to understand it all, But if you don't love your neighbor, then you're headed for a fall."
Every time I tried to sing that song, it caught in my throat as I realized what a hypocrite I would be to sing those words after ranting and raving at the neighbor kids the way I had over those three or four years.
I knew I owed them an apology, but none of them live next door now; they are scattered to the four winds. A couple of them aren't even kids any more.
But they all have Facebook accounts, so I private messaged them all together in a single conversation and told them how wrong I had been. I offered no excuse, just told them I must have gone crazy for awhile and I was sorry.
Two of them tried to make me feel better by reminding me of the good times we shared before I turned on them. Four of them said they forgave me. I imagine the other three forgave me too, but they are boys; one of them was here at the house the next day, although nothing was said about my apology. That sort of thing is difficult for boys to handle.
So maybe now I can sing that song in church. I'm not sure.
I realize I am the loser in this story. I could have hung out with those kids like Cliff did, laughing at their antics. I could have baked them cookies. I would have had friends and admirers for life.
No apology will ever bring back the opportunities I threw away.
It's a pretty strange situation when a song I wrote thirty years ago kicks me in the butt and tells me to shape up.