The sorry epidemic is flooding our world. “I’m sorry for taking too much time,” “sorry my kids are too loud,” “sorry I’m not who you wish I was,” “sorry…”. One day I tried to keep count of all the sorry’s I heard in restaurants, stores, conversations, street corners and meetings. It was impossible. I was face-to-face with a raging pandemic! And, sadly, I must admit I myself am recovering from this dismissive dis-ease.

Recently on a trip to California, I met with my writing coach. Before we began I said, “I am about to pay you a lot of money to work with you. I want to maximize my time. I’ d like you to charge me an extra dollar every time I say I’m sorry.” “Sure,” she said.” I went on, “It’s really important to me because…”. She gently interupted me. “Justifying your request is a form of apology.” She ticked me $1. Two hours later, I only owed $4. It was one of the most productive sessions I ever had. I was ecstatic! I had eradicated a lifetime of unproductive apology. I agreed to pay her $1 for every “I’m sorry” I uttered for the next month.

Inspired, I stopped at a sidewalk cafe to write. Two hours flew by. As I stood up and stretched, a piece of paper floated off my table. I knew in an instant. My computer had just been stolen. He had reached from behind and stolen my brand new computer! And I never even saw his hand! I turned. Yelling obscenities I chased him, screaming to strangers to stop him as he jumped into a waiting car. Dodging traffic and ignoring horns, I followed them into the projects, ducking under a gate to confront them and retrieve my computer. Instead, it was an old woman in a car that looked like theirs. Terror spread across her face.

“Sorry I scared you.” She locked her car doors and pulled away.

Walking back to the cafe, the sorry’s started flying like battle planes bombing Irag.

First, the internal ones—these can be the most toxic. Sorry I had made such a scene. The entire staff was standing around my table when I got back.Sorry I hadn’t just gone to help out a friend instead of selfishly taking time for me. Sorry that I didn’t see the thief–what was wrong with me? I thought I knew the urban jungle. Sorry for …

Then the external ones. Sorry to the cop who thought I was nuts for asking how to track down the thief. Sorry to my friends who urged me to let it go and be done with it. Sorry for loosing my temper after the 10th call to Dell when no one could find the serial number on a computer only three weeks old! Sorry that life’s injustices cut me to the quick.

By 5:15 I owed my coach another $75.

Weary and disheartened, I left SF a day early. I drove through the desert, letting the magic of midnight wanderings transform my thoughts. I realized that my sorry’s were often a mis-focused attempt to relieve others of their responsibility. My thoughts evolved with the hum of the rode. I could see how I let things be taken from me without ever demanding their return. How my sorry’s had prevented me from really standing up for what I needed, what was important to me. As farmland turned to mountains I felt myself climbing into a new realization–a new commitment to release the habitual sorry’s from my life.

Exhausted, yet exhilarated, I pulled off the highway seeking a place to camp. The full moon danced on the rich red soil, the night crisp with dark surrender. The road turned to gravel and wound down into a canyon. There, to my right, a secluded nook to tuck my car into the shadows of protection and sleep. As I turned my wheel my car jolted forward, then downward–nose diving into a five foot ravine. “What the f—!”

Stranded, miles from any help, I panicked. My sorry’s turned into anger, my anger into defeat. I gave up. There was nothing I could do. I went to sleep in the back of the car. Oddly, it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had.

I awoke in the morning to the sound of a truck. Two young men stopped, laughed and had me out of the ravine in 20 minutes. Not a single sorry was exchanged. I thought,”What if I laughed at my foibles, acknowledged the gentle goodness of strangers and didn’t get caught in the projections of others?”

Later that morning, driving through the valley, the sergeant called. “We’ve arrested the suspects” he said. “We’ve been looking for that car in a string of robberies but no one had ever given us the license number before. I’ve never seen so many people help track down a thief.” “Yeah, it was probably all my yelling.” I almost apologized, then realized, no it was my screaming that got the by-standers to take down the license plate. My determination to chase the robbers was so unusual that the witnesses stayed around to offer any assistance they could.

I’d like to report that this revelation healed my sorry infliction. The truth, though, is this time-honed epidemic doesn’t recede overnight. It’s taken years to even notice, and it will take time to completely release it. My practice today: I still pay whoever I’m with $1 for every “sorry” comment I make about who I am or how I interact in the world. When I truly am sorry, I want it to have meaning, not a congested attempt at putting others at ease.

Notice how many times a day you find yourself apologizing, unconsciously trivializing your self, seeking acceptance, dismissing your needs. Does it run your life? Dare to let your life inspire your actions rather than destroy your being, in whatever form it takes. Unapologetically.