A week into hiking the Appalachian Trail I woke at dawn, rolled up my sleeping bag, and walked into the morning mist.
As I rounded the trail’s first bend, a red-bearded man squatting beside the trail locked gazes with me.
The encounter caught me by surprise, and I blurted out a hasty, hearty, “Good morning!”
The red-bearded man said nothing in return.
He narrowed his eyes momentarily on mine, then diverted his gaze to the ground. His lips pursed tight in an expression of poorly concealed disdain.
As I passed by him I muttered, “Asshole.”
A little ways down the trial I looked back over my shoulder and, seeing him from behind, understood why he was squatting there.
Only then, in my foggy morning mind, did it dawn on me that he’d been holding toilet paper in his hands as I’d approached him.
Only then did I realize how truly strange it was for a man to be squatting beside the Appalachian Trail at dawn.
There was no shame in red-beard’s poor bowel discipline. The drastic change to a trail diet had been messing with all of our systems. Every hiker I knew had been joking or complaining about their bowels.
I wanted to turn back and tell him I was sorry for acting so gratuitously friendly in the midst of his embarrassing deed.
I wanted to apologize for calling him an asshole.
I did neither. I just kept walking.
The stranger and I had shared an intimate moment together, but I just wanted to get on with my life.
Some apologies, it seems, are best left unsaid.