Apologize First

Don’t Let it Block Your Thankfulness

Have you ever wanted to thank someone but knew that in order to do so, you would first have to apologize? For over three decades this was the position in which I found myself concerning my former jazz-band leader, Stutz Wimmer. 
    When I was doing graduate work at Emory University in the mid-1980s, I played tenor sax for the jazz band. Stutz was a great conductor, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable year with him and the band. I might have thanked him years ago, but for the way the year ended.
    A few months ago, I decided to take the plunge. As you might have guessed, the first step was relatively easy: There is apparently only one Stutz Wimmer. I emailed Stutz, saying: “I doubt that you remember me; if you do, it is because of the issue that I feel called upon to write (a few decades late, but still).”  I then reminded him of the issue. 
     Emory had paid for the band to fly to New York for a concert at a place in Manhattan called Town Hall. I went on: “The Jazz Band also appeared at a school somewhere on Long Island a day or two before the NYC concert. I don’t know exactly where because, I’m sorry to say, I blew it off for extra time with my family in the New York area. What I did was not ethical, and I cannot even claim ‘youth’ as a mitigating excuse. I was in graduate school and almost everyone else in the band was an undergrad. I am sorry for not meeting my responsibilities for the trip, and I hope you can accept my apology, also as representative of the whole band. (I even had the chutzpah, in the following fall, to show up for another tryout!! Sorry! I’m lucky that you just glared at me and let me go through the audition rather than yelling me out of the room!)  For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed my year with you and the Jazz Band; indeed, my late teacher, Pete Yellin, was a jazz musician, and he had always wanted me to be in a jazz band. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the cool way that you had of conducting. Thanks for a great year of music.” 
    Stutz wrote back the very next day: “Hey Teddy. Wow … our time spent together was nearly a lifetime ago. I certainly recall the trip to NY and the performances with the Emory groups there. Honestly, I do not recall the details of your AWOL as you’ve described, but I do not doubt it happened, and that I was likely upset, at least on some level, by it. All the years of teaching and working with people have brought mostly joy and fond memories. I suppose that particular incident must not have been much more than a moment for me, as it surely did not leave any indelible marks. I have been retired from teaching for 8+ years now, out of Atlanta, living at the beach, playing a bunch still and continuing to enjoy life to the fullest. I hope you and yours are doing the same. And thank you for the kind words! They are always appreciated, as you surely can appreciate by now. Stay well and thrive.”
    Dear Reader, I hope that my basic Thanksgiving message is clear: Don’t let an apology stand in the way of your thanking someone. And for any cynics among you who would add “just wait a few decades so that your wrong can be forgotten,” I would beg to differ. 
    Had I written to Stutz years ago, I believe that he would have been equally gracious and the whole exchange would have been more meaningful. So, yes, my Thanksgiving message to you is to thank and keep thanking whenever possible, and if necessary, first apologize and then thank and keep thanking.   

TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.


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