The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The couch let out a huff of air as I dropped into it. Traffic had been as busy as one would expect for a sunny afternoon. Everywhere you could look folk were out grabbing what light they could, bathing in the radiance of the day star. Or that’s how I liked to think of it. I rummaged around in my satchel to grab my glasses case to swap from sun glasses to regular ones. My companion had picked a back corner table in the café. Enough to be out of the way, but with an open view of the area all around.
He sat on the other end of the couch a wide deep mug set before him, the froth of the cappuccino smooth and flat except on one edge where the first sip had been taken.
My brain seemed to catch up with his words as my regular glasses found there comfort upon my face.
“What? I presumed you farted. What with the puff of air and the apology. Its okay if you did mind. Better out than in, as I always say.”
His face had that smile upon it even as his gaze remained turned away looking out over the people about the café. I felt the rush of blood bring heat to my face.
“Look, that was the chair.”
“Sure, the chair.”
“Then why did you apologise, eh?”
The question caught me unprepared leaving me grasping for an explanation. Had I apologised? I had. The first words out of my mouth as soon as I arrived had been an apology. My brain, ever ready to find fault in myself delivered an excuse.
“Em. Sorry I’m late, traffic was heavy on the way in.”
He gave the quickest of glances in my direction, a quizzical lift to his eyebrow before nodding to the clock on the wall.
“We are both here sooner than agreed so no one is late. Try again lad.”
My brain was quicker off the mark this time.
“I’m sorry if you were waiting long.”
This time his eyebrows came down in that slight frown of his and his gaze came around to take me in fully.
“Again, we are both here early. I have ample time to sit, enjoy a good coffee and to watch the theatre of the world play out its parts.”
He raised a big hand of his and gestured about the café where people sat in conversation, reading books, or just gazing out at the world through the large windows.
“You know well that patience is more than just a virtue when it comes to me. So why don’t you try again and this time leave me out of it eh? What did you apologise for?”
His words were gentle but there was a directness to them that brooked no more dissembling.
In past interactions, when I was less aware of myself than I am now, direct questions like this would have made me uncomfortable. That discomfort would have resulted in either of my pre-scripted responses. A joking dismissal followed by a quick subject change, or an annoyed bluster also leading to a prompt subject change. Thankfully I’m a bit older and wiser now, or maybe just a bit more emotionally intelligent.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well that’s as good a start as any I guess but I don’t think it’s going to cut it today do you? Now mind your elbow.”
I sat back in the couch tucking my arms in against my body to moderate my size as a server leaned over a deposited a tall glass cup in front of me.
“Will there be anything else today?”
“No Marco, everything’s great as usual. Tell Anya the cappuccino is spot on, just the right ratio of froth to coffee.”
The server stepped away as I looked at the latte in front of me. It had the right colour for a quad shot mix and my nose told me the caramel syrup had gone in early so the heat would melt it through out the drink. It was even crowned with a little floof of whipped cream. This was the perfect drink for my tastes today.
I have fancy, some might say awkward, tastes some times. I very rarely ask for what I want as I never want to be a bother on someone else. That thought began to shape my understanding but it was still not quite ready for comprehension. Of course there was the matter of the beverage to address first.
“Em….I didn’t order this.”
“Yeh, I ordered it for you.”
“But I never told you what I wanted.”
“True, but I made an educated guess.”
“And how is it that it’s delivered with perfect timing when we are both earlier than planned?”
This last was delivered with a wink and a conspiratorial tapping of a finger against the side of his nose. What can one say to that kind of response? Not much I find, so it’s best to just smile with acceptance. Reaching out I raised the glass and held it forward towards him.
His large hand encircled the broad mug and he brought it up to touch mine with a soft clink.
“Slainte agus grá, mo mhic.”
Both of us raised our vessels and took a sip before returning them to the table. The flavours of the coffee, caramel and cream meshed in my mouth followed by the pleasant warmth as I swallowed the brew down. We both allowed a moment for the experience. It was something I’d had to learn to accept as I would often try fill every minute with some comment or other. Of course he would not let things slide too far when there was an answer due him. He is patience personified, right up until the moment he is not.
“So, Why did you apologise when you arrived? Or let me phrase the question differently for you. Why was an apology the first words out of your mouth? Why not a greeting? And this time try look a little deeper eh?”
That uncomfortable feeling set a prickle upon me but I was beginning to see what it was the Big man was driving at. The standard social convention even amongst strangers is to offer some form of greeting. The classic, ‘hello’, ‘hi’ ‘hey’ kind of stuff. Between friends this becomes a lot less formal. Well it does with my friends at least. Everything from a slight nod to the casual ‘sup’ or ‘what’s the story?’ even as far as a playful punch in the arm.
I had done none of these. ‘I’m sorry’ had been the first words out of my lips and given my obvious lack of awareness to that fact until it was pointed out to me, it hadn’t been a conscious act.
The prickle became a frown of concern as I chased my brain along the pathways of this thought. I was aware of my companion’s casual attention but he was giving me ample time to think. If the act was not dictated by conscious thought, then it was triggered by some subconscious habit. At some point in my life apologising had become such a common occurrence, such a standard response, that my conscious brain had developed a subconscious system to manage the apologies.
I was onto something here. I could tell because I really didn’t want to be thinking about this. My mind was trying to tell me to check my phone, or make any one of a hundred practiced dismissive reactions and change the subject. My conscious awareness of self, cultivated with the support of my companion here allowed me to acknowledge the discomfort, but carry on anyway. I looked up and I took another slow sip of my drink and caught the slightest of encouraging nods.
I needed to remember when in my life apologies became so second nature to me that it became part of my default language. The taste of the sweet strong coffee gave me some comfort as its warmth made its way down my throat.
As a child I was always taught to have manners. To speak politely and to take responsibility for my interactions with family and friends. This is where I learned the words of apology.
As a teen apologies became a thing that others owed me. Things I would demand of them so that they could see how their interactions with me hurt. How the words and actions caused harm. How they needed to make space for me whenever I was nearby, whether they really wanted to or not. I can’t say I was always in the right. It was at this time that I learned the true value of an honest apology. I was the one who caused the hurt. I will never forget his face. The mix of anger and grief that my words had caused him. How was I to know his mother had only passed away that year? It took a good deal of time before we were able to speak again, and I know it was only because of the sincerity of my apology.
Some part of my mind knew the when and the where but that time is amongst the toughest of my life and even now over a decade later my thoughts still step lightly around these memories. It had all started so simply and innocently. There was a lot of emotion involved in my first serious relationship, and boy was I serious about it. In hindsight, maybe a bit too serious. Being told that they knew better and I should just accept what they said as fact. Eventually, everything I said was wrong. Every action, incorrect or ill considered for their expectations. Every interaction became grounds for an argument and in my weakened state of resolve, I would just apologise no matter the scenario. Anything for a peaceful life right?
I let the tears roll unchecked down my cheeks. I had learned that there is no shame in honest tears. Taking a deep shuddering breath I looked up into a pair of dark eyes, filled with compassion and empathy.
“It was a very different time then lad. You stepped forward with your heart and thought that was enough. There is no shame in loving hard, but a true love is one that makes space for every part of a person. A love of equals is a love of the mind, the body and the heart.”
I began to take intentional breaths. Choosing the conscious control over each inhalation and exhalation, rather than leave it to the subconscious mechanism. My heart began to steady, my mind clear, and my tears cease.
“There is nothing wrong with an honest well considered apology, when one’s actions warrant it.”
He sat forward, his face taking on a sincere expression.
“The truth of community or any relationship is that it cannot exist without compromise, but there are things upon which a person should never be forced to compromise. The truth of each of us is a core of values which change and develop as we grow and experience the world. In most folk these values are based on love and respect for others. On caring considered action in respect to the world around them. To be forced to apologise for these core values is to force a person to apologise for their existence.”
He sat back and a heavy sigh escaped him. I watched him closely as he took a moment to look about the café and the world outside the window. I have learned to allow things to have their own space, even the pauses and gaps in conversation. His caring face took on a thoughtful frown and I knew he was considering his next words carefully.
“Some people try justify any number of terrible things to others and to themselves rather than accept responsibility. I would guess that somewhere inside them they know that accepting personal responsibility would necessitate an apology for their deeds. At least I would hope so.”
His big hand reached out and took a slow sip from his mug, allowing himself time to be in that moment before moving on.
“Other folk exist in such as state of fear and instability that they feel compelled to diminish themselves so that others will not mark them out as different and ridicule them. They assume a smaller form, moderate their existence so that they can pass among the rest of folk assuming that there is safety in numbers. These folk, who are not living to the truth of themselves, know that they are in the wrong by diminishing themselves, by handing their power to others, by not stepping up to the place that is prepared for them.”
A slight shake of his head and another soft sigh.
“Some folk feel the inherent wrongness of the world around them and in their small fearful state they apologise. They apologise because on some level they know they could be doing more for themselves and for others if they were just brave enough to step out of the flock. To stand when others cower. These folk apologise for not being the person they are needed to be.“
His eyes came around to me again and this time I knew I was looking into the eyes of a God. One who saw way more than a human could ever perceive.
“There is no shame in choosing a small life, in choosing to moderate your existence. Never apologise for doing so. Make the choice, live the life you choose. Apologise when one is warranted, but never apologise just for existing.”
He left the words hang between us for a moment until he was sure that I had absorbed them.
“Apology not accepted.”
I gave him a nod of understanding and a smile of gratitude.
“Thanks Big D. I appreciate the effort you invest in me.”
His features softened and a warm smile slipped across his lips. He gave me one of his signature knowing winks.
“I wouldn’t do it if you weren’t worth the effort.”
With that he shifted his weight and a puff of gas escaped from between him and the seat. Just as the pungent scent reached me he chuckled.
“I’m sorry, and no, that wasn’t the chair.”
As I began to cough on the noxious fumes, the Dagda let out as hearty belly laugh.
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An Scéalaí Beag