Kirby: Making amends for past sins will cost you

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One of the drawbacks to this job is that I'm easy to find. That makes it hard to get away with stuff in my past.

Thanks to the Internet, I've been tracked down by former missionary companions, grade-school classmates, Army buddies, ex-girlfriends, past employers and even people I arrested as a cop.

Most of the time these contacts are casual enough, cursory hellos just to see if I remember them. Normally I do.

I heard from a former teacher who wrote to say that finding me working for a newspaper was a pleasant surprise considering that I'd barely been able to spell my own name in high school.

An ex-girlfriend once contacted me to say she had burned all my pictures and an autographed Three Dog Night poster (that's where that went) after we broke up, and that I was probably still a jerk.

But until last year, no one had ever contacted me to apologize for something I didn't even remember happened.

Several months ago, I got an email from a guy I knew in the Army. J.P. and I were stationed together for a couple of months in Georgia. We spent our free time misbehaving to the point of periodic amnesia. The last time I saw him was in 1972.

Forty years later, J.P. vaguely still remembered my name and where I was from. That and the Internet was all he needed to track me down.

J.P. emailed to ask my forgiveness and make good for stealing 20 bucks from my wallet one night when I was not entirely myself on a floor somewhere. He was going out for supplies and didn't think I would mind.

Later, when I failed to notice the missing money (a lot of things escaped me back then), he didn't bother to tell me about it. It was almost like it had never happened. In fact, for me it hadn't.

J.P. wanted to send me the money with interest. He is a part-time Christian pastor now and wanted to get right with the Lord.

I told him he was a full-time idiot now, and that not only did I not remember the incident, I didn't care and didn't want his money. Twenty bucks? Who cares about 20 bucks after 40 years? It made no sense.

It did to J.P. We debated the matter by email and later on the phone. I maintained my position that J.P. was nuts. He refused to budge.

Eventually, we compromised with a donation to a local homeless shelter. He would call it good and I would stop calling him names.

I don't have this sort determination (or courage) to make right the bad things I've done. Not only would it take the rest of my life, but also would put me way over the limits on my credit cards.

J.P. may have gotten himself off the hook. Unfortunately, it put me on it. I can't stop thinking about all the people I might owe money to and not remember, and how easy it will be now for them to find me.

OK, line up. If I owe you money, tell me how much. If I remember it, I'll pay you back. If I don't — and you still have relatively good proof — I'll see what I can do for a charity.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or