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I didn’t know I owed him money, but he wouldn’t let me pay

This story happened when I was 21 and I’ve been carrying it with me ever since. Every Yom Kippur, it’s the first thing on my mind.

When I was 14, I wanted to get into a music summer school for teens that was taught at Rimon, one of the best contemporary music schools in Israel. I looked for a piano teacher that could turn my stiff classical training to light-handed jazz piano – and I did. I found the perfect one.

Every week, up until my audition, I came to his studio for an afternoon piano lesson that I loved. We would talk about music and art, and he introduced me to so many of my favorite artists — Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel and Chet Baker. I ended up passing the audition and had a great time at summer camp.

The next year, I wanted to try out again, and started going to jazz lessons to prepare. This time, I didn’t pass, and my motivation to continue studying with my teacher disappeared. I stopped going to lessons and was consumed by my upcoming final exams in school.

The years passed, and I found myself at 20, an officer in the IDF, feeling like I needed to bring back music into my life. On the train on my way home to spend a weekend at my parents’ house, I called my teacher, but he didn’t pick up. I figured I would try again later, but I forgot. Another two months passed, and I tried again. No answer. A month later, I tried a third time. No luck. I was too preoccupied with my daily routine to realize that he was avoiding me.

Probably a year had passed when one day I decided that this was all suspicious. Maybe I had the wrong number? I checked with a friend that also studied with him and confirmed that I had the right one.

I called from my home phone this time and he picked up. I was stunned to hear his voice on the other end.

“Hi, maybe you don’t remember me,” I opened. “I’m Nitzan. I used to be your piano student.”

“I definitely remember,” he told me, “but I don’t think that you do.”

I was confused and asked him what he meant. Then he explained to me that I had never paid him money that I owed him for some lessons.

I immediately told him that I had no idea, and that I was so sorry, and wanted to pay any debt I had. But he told me, sharply, that he wasn’t interested in my money or in teaching me, and told me to find another teacher before abruptly hanging up.

I was so shocked; I had no idea that this was going on. I texted him a lengthy apology, explaining again that I didn’t know, telling him how sorry I was, and repeating that I would like to pay him immediately. He never answered the text. A few months later I passed by his studio and called to ask if it would be okay to come up. He said no.

About seven years have passed since, and every time I hear a song that we both liked, I get a bad feeling in my stomach. I was a teenager and definitely didn’t mean any harm, but I am still very sorry for denying someone of their livelihood. My apology has been left unforgiven until today, but I still hope that maybe someday, we will meet under different circumstances and that he will forgive me.

On certain days, when I remember this story, I get mad at my teacher for not accepting my apology. But to be honest, I think sometimes our actions have consequences that are beyond our understanding, and that when we hurt someone, they do not owe us any forgiveness.

Maybe we owe it to ourselves.

Nitzan Amitay is a graduate student in sociology at the London School of Economics, and is originally from Haifa, Israel.

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