Two ladies near me on the Chambers St. platform were discussing the recent tragic events at a Nebraska mall.

They looked like they could be from middle America themselves. One was wearing a red beret and the other wore an oversized sweatjacket with glow-in-the-dark white sneakers.

“What is the world coming to? All those people.” The woman wearing the red beret shook her head.

“And they say New Yorkers are nuts. At least the shooter had the decency to turn the gun on himself. Spare us all some ridiculous alibi about his mental problems,” said pristine sneaker woman.

“Do you think he’ll go to heaven?”

A train on the downtown tracks squeals its brakes and I couldn’t hear the response. The woman in the red beret took up again. “But God forgives everyone who asks for forgiveness.”

The shooter indeed left a note behind in which, among other things, he apologized for what he had been about to do and wrote, “I’ve just snapped.” It made me think about how the word “sorry,” like so many others, has lost its meaning. I think this is due in part to the fact that as a society we seem to enjoy building our heroes up, only to tear them down. Then we expect them to repent, to offer up whatever lame-ass excuse they can find, so we can feel good about liking them again. I offer you a smattering of examples:

– Mel Gibson’s explanation for his anti-Semitic remarks in 2005: "That wasn’t really me, it was the booze talking, I have inner rage, I have a dark side, I’m in rehab."

– After a tabloid photo was published showing model Kate Moss snorting cocaine, she apologized to “all the people I have let down.” Moments it seemed after being released from a rehab clinic she signed contracts with Calvin Klein and Virgin Mobile.

– Years ago when Hugh Grant was caught with prostitute Divine Brown, he went on what many like to call his “mea culpa” tour of talk shows, classifying his cheating on then-girlfriend Liz Hurley as “disloyal and shabby and goatish.” His movie career continues to thrive.  

– Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who resigned after having an affair with a gay man he hired to serve as the state’s homeland security advisor, at least used the word sorry in his farewell speech: "I am sorry that I have disappointed the citizens of the state of New Jersey who gave me this enormous trust." He went on to say that there is a climate in this country in which "we smile in person and then throw each other under the bus when we leave the room."

I don’t even pretend to know if, like the woman wearing the red beret on the train platform said, God forgives anyone who asks for forgiveness. That’s a topic for a completely different blog. It does suggest that we all crave a second chance. But I wonder if these people are truly sorry for their misactions or if they are just sorry they got caught. Maybe apologizing means never having to say you’re sorry.

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