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The question

Many years ago, a senior vice-president at my company did something I could not forgive at the time. Four of us were travelling across the country making presentations to our largest accounts. I sat down in my seat on the plane, and, to my horror, my briefcase with all of the confidential files in it had gone missing. I made a scene and was really scared about being so careless. The flight attendant whispered to me that one of my colleagues might have hidden my briefcase in the overhead rack at the back of the plane. I found out that our senior V.P. was guilty of this prank. Upon arrival, I refused to ride in the same cab. At breakfast the next morning, I would not even sit with him. Later he asked if I would forgive him for making me look so foolish, and I said that I would not. Not long afterwards he died, and I never had the chance to tell him that I accepted his apology and probably overreacted. How should I have reacted at the time, and is there any way I can make amends or at least alleviate my guilt over this?

The answer

Plenty of people don’t reproach themselves for anything. They don’t see themselves as the authors of their own misfortunes and tend to blame everything on everyone else.

So it’s refreshing to hear from someone who actually feels bad about something they said or did.

Also there’s a profound lesson in here, I think – so profound I may have to bust out some Latin: Memento mori.

I, in fact, have those two words tattooed down my left arm – a little reminder, a note to self, as it were. Roughly: Remember you are mortal.

Your situation is a reminder the people around you might also not be around forever, so you should say or do whatever you intend on saying or doing while you have the chance.

In your case, it’s too late to forgive your former vice-president for the prank he pulled, so maybe it’s time to start forgiving yourself for not forgiving him.

For one thing, I hate to speak ill of the departed, but it doesn’t sound like that funny a prank. It sounds quite upsetting and depressing and kind of awful.

In fact, I would go further and say I’m not a fan of pranks in general. Isn’t life nerve-racking enough without people playing pranks on you?

For example, on one April 1 (which I’d forgotten was a day pranks are officially sanctioned), right after we’d purchased our first house, my wife called to say she’d been fired from her job. Not funny!

Not nearly as bad as the one she played on her boyfriend previous to me, also on April Fools’ Day, when she was about 19 or 20: She got her college roommate to call him up and tell him she was dead.

Not funny! He flipped. He freaked. He was extremely, horribly upset, and I can’t blame him one bit, and it actually kind of makes me mad at my wife (who is sitting across from me as I write and just told me this when I explained the topic of this week’s column).

Now, your former colleague’s prank doesn’t quite fit in that category. But it does sound distressing, upsetting and deeply annoying, so who needs it?

So I think you may be excused for taking your time to get over it. And I honestly don’t see how you could have or should have “acted differently” at the time, and I think it’s high time you stopped reproaching yourself for that.

Might be a strange analogy to draw, but it’s something I’ve learned from long years of marriage: Sometimes when someone is truly upset, they just need some time and space to cool off.

It’s one of the biggest canards about relationships, I feel: “Never go to bed angry.” Sometimes you should! Sometimes people just need a little time to simmer down.

You just needed a little time. I think your prankster V.P. should have, and in fact may have, understood that. It’s too bad he’s not around to see you get over it, but that was the risk he took playing such a naughty prank.

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