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In defence of the article I never wrote

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“I’ve been very angry with you.” Pause. “For years!” he said. And then he went quiet. Clearly, he was waiting for me to apologise. Which I would have done. Had I known him. Or known what I had done.

I had been minding my own business at an event when I noticed that this older guy had sidled up to me. At first, I paid little attention in the naïve hope that my lack of engagement made it clear that I wasn’t open to discussion. After some time, I realised that he was going nowhere, so I turned to face him to see what it was that he wanted. His proximity was starting to make me uncomfortable.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Howard Feldman.” Because I wasn’t sure what else to go with. “I know,” he responded. Grumpily. “I’ve been waiting to meet you. Because of a terrible article that you wrote years ago. It made me so upset.”

“Which article was it?” I asked. “The one about your time in the South African army! I think it was terrible. And I couldn’t believe what you wrote!”

“But I was never in the South African army,” I countered. “Which means I didn’t write the article.” Silence. “Oh.”

For the record, I’m unbothered by someone not liking an article I wrote. But I’m very bothered when they hate an article I didn’t write. “It seems like a waste of a few years,” I said shaking my head, after which he mumbled something, and the conversation sputtered to an uncomfortable close.

It was only after I got home that the lesson of the encounter became clear. This bloke, whose name I didn’t learn, had spent years being annoyed with me. I have no idea how many Friday night dinners were consumed by a discussion about something I didn’t write, how often he had regaled his wife – assuming he has one – with his outrage and disappointment. And I wondered how many times he played out the conversation that he would have with me when we finally met.

At first, I thought it was really funny. Until I realised that it was really very sad. And what made it worse was that I had no doubt that I was probably guilty of doing what he had done. Just as we all probably are.

I had no idea who this person was, which meant that I had spent not a minute thinking about him. Yet he had devoted so much energy to being angry with a person who had no idea.

The experts tell us that we choose the space in our heads that we give to others. We can decide who lives in our thoughts and hearts, and who we give power to. It’s not only those we don’t know but might be someone we’ve bumped into, had a conversation with, or even an altercation with. There’s a good chance that they have moved on, neither thinking or even remembering the incident, where we might let it fester and metastasise inside us.

On a brighter note, whereas I was never a member of the South African National Defence Force and didn’t write the article I was accused of writing, I’ve now penned something that might go some way to make the wasted years somewhat worth it.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Wendy Kaplan Weil

    May 23, 2024 at 12:36 pm


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