Two stories, both with pretend names substituted for the real ones: In my first career as an English teacher, I had a kid in Junior English. I’ll call Tommy. A full year after he stepped out of Room 334 for the last time, he told me he felt I had paid less attention to him than I had paid to others in the class. I remember how awful I felt hearing this. I apologized sincerely if that really seemed to be the case. Then in a twinkling decades passed and I saw in the paper his mother’s obituary which revealed the fact that he now lived in France together with his partner.
I couldn’t find Tom on Facebook, but I did find his partner and asked him to pass on my words of condolence over the loss of Tommy’s mother whom I remembered from many a Parents’ Night. Sure enough in a few weeks, he wrote me and last summer he and his partner, on a trip to the States, came to my house for tea. We had a great visit, at the very end of which I again said I was sorry for the fact that he had ever once felt less than totally noticed and celebrated by his callow young teacher. He had absolutely no memory of having felt that way much less of having said something to me.
Was I off the hook then? It sure felt that way. It felt as though I could finally let go of years and years of self-blame, all thanks to Facebook, king of the social networks,
Facebook also gets the credit for NOT letting me off the hook when it came to a far older incident. Listen to this: A boy I knew in middle school “friended” me on Facebook and for a year or more we kept in a light kind of touch, writing a word back and forth every few months until the day he metaphorically cleared his throat so to speak and wrote this.
“I just have to ask: Why did you always laugh every time I had to stand up in Math class?” “I did that?” I wrote back. “Ralph, I have no memory of doing that.” And he wrote again: “Well you did, every time.”
I really didn’t remember – until suddenly I remembered. I did laugh at Ralph because his bottom seemed to me to be so much bigger than the other boys’ bottoms.
I certainly couldn’t say that, so I just apologized generally, explaining that I was doubtless laughing at others to take the focus off myself with my hand-me-down clothes and my bangs so curly they kept rolling up like window shades.
I hope he has forgiven me now. If so, it’s largely thanks to Facebook which showed me that it’s never too late for a person to reach out and bless or affirm or forgive another, as long as you’re both still living.
And now for old time’s sake, here’s George – and his memorable dad played by Jerry Stiller – explaining about the Costanza-invented holiday for feats of strength and the airing of grievances known as Festivus: