After 35 years, it's time you forgave yourself

The note card and the magic marker printing were bright pink (I'm guessing that the author is a “she”). But if the words' meaning had a color, it would be gray.

“Dear Ms. Curtis,” the card read.

“I went to Cochrane Jr. High & Garinger High School in the late 60's-early 70's. I took some sheet music & a music book home with me and never returned them. I have been out of school for 35 years and I still feel bad for keeping these.

“I thought about going to the schools and paying for them but I worried about cameras & embarrassment. I apologize for taking that material. I knew better. I was raised you don't take something that doesn't belong to you.”

Enclosed were five crisp $20 bills.

“Maybe now that I've sent you this money,” the note continued, “you can give it to whoever would handle this and maybe I can get this worry off my mind.

“Thank you.”

There was no signature, no return address.

My message to you is: Stop worrying.

I'm sure you've more than paid the price for your long-ago misdeed.

The schools probably had no clue that this book and sheet music went missing. Music classes weren't canceled. The bands played on.

After I got over how humbling it was that you trust me – a person you've never met – I did what you wanted me to do.

When I visited the band and orchestra director at Garinger High, he was impressed by your gesture. If all the people who ever took a book over the years sent money, said David Lail, “we could rebuild the school.”

“It's one thing to say you're sorry, it's another to do something.”

Lail's students, at after-school practice Wednesday afternoon, were practically speechless, an unusual state for kids that age. “That's great!” sums up their reaction.

With the school's $50 share, Lail said he's going to buy sheet music, “some marches for the band.”

And you “will be a Wildcat band member forever,” he promised.

Cochrane Middle School gets its $50 today. (I'm as eager to pass this money along as you were.) Band teacher James Curry agrees with Lail that your repayment of a debt to the schools “shows a lot of integrity.”

When Curry was a middle-school saxophonist in Moncks Corner, S.C., his band played for visiting celebrity Leslie Nielsen, who autographed the only paper handy – a piece of sheet music that Curry never returned.

He understands.

Curry, who also plans to buy music for his class, is elated that students will benefit from your thoughtful gift.

What makes a person carry guilt around for so many years?

A psychologist friend, though hesitant to diagnosis an absentee patient, had a few thoughts.

She said you might be focusing too much on mistakes you've made instead of thinking about all the good you've done.

If you came to her for advice, my friend said she would help you finally forgive yourself, and then find a new problem to solve, something creative and positive.

Reading the anguish between the neat pink lines, I have to agree.

I've written that the world could use a little more guilt and shame.

But somehow, I don't think that's your problem. I'm writing this column so you know that you have made things right.