“If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect and falling, you can now do it for just about everyone else. If you have not done it for yourself, I’m afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgment and futility to others.”
Richard Rohr, Falling Upward.
I was granted the opportunity to learn this firsthand this week.
It began with a jagged piece of contact lense stuck in my eye. The year that I hoped would go smoothly, the new routines and excitements suddenly felt jerked to a halt by this tiny, irritating scrap of plastic. I stalked around the house – eye twitching – the peaceful and hopeful mother image that I had hoped to portray quickly fading as an impossible mirage before me. Then it was the car keys – irretrievably stuck within the locked house, or so I thought until our level-headed friend and builder tugged on the usually secure sliding door and it gloriously opened.
The second day of school dawned brighter. Hudson embraced his new reality with his usual whole-bodied enthusiasm and at the end of the day we buckled ourselves into the car in record time. As we pulled out of our space I looked up to see a poor mother causing havoc in the carpark when she attempted to move the wrong way through the one-way lane. I heard the sound of a drink bottle falling to the floor, distractedly asked someone to pick it up and we glided out – Hudson happily chatting about his day and Eli recounting stories from the playground. When we arrived home I transferred a sleeping Harvey to bed and everyone found their own games and corners. It seemed a remarkably peaceful afternoon. I reclined with a recipe book and spied an idea for Primo Sale cheese. I decided to embrace the moment of quiet and seize the day.
The pot was warming on the stove when I picked up my phone. There was an email from the school describing an unfortunate incident that had occurred that afternoon. A red car had been sideswiped and the person had driven off. I felt it in my body first. The flush, stomach falling, eyes widening, muscles freezing in dread. I had been parked next to a red car. What if that hadn’t been a drink bottle falling to the floor after all? Shaking, I reached for the keys, pounded out the front door and rounded the car.
Red stripes of paint glared at me from the rear side.
It was as though I was outside my body for an instant. How could I have been so stupid? I felt like I had stepped into a nightmare as I ran back inside to call the school. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. It was me!’ I have replayed the afternoon’s events a hundred times since, wondering how I missed it, picturing the poor woman’s face when she arrived to see the gashes on her car. Chastising myself, feeling sick to the stomach, so ashamed.
The school were very magnanimous about it, having suspected from the start that it had been an unknowing error rather than a deliberate attempt to escape blame, but I still felt awful. Selfishly, some of my first thoughts were about how people at school would view me now, thinking it so unlikely that I could not have realised. I flashed back in my mind to that very afternoon, when, hearing about a similar event that had occurred half an hour before mine, I had distinctly thought, internal voice dripping with scathing judgment- ‘How could you not know!?’
Parenting became impossible. I couldn’t think about anything else. I sobbed to Dave on the phone and he was so nice about it, but I felt terrible. How could he forgive me? I couldn’t forgive myself.
When I finally had the chance to apologise profusely to the victim it came as a relief. In a crowded car park, she impossibly pulled into the space next to mine and we were able to talk. She was also forgiving, despite her natural confusion that I could have not realised at the time, and everything is on track to rectify the error.
I still feel terrible. ‘Rumination’, I say under my breath when I catch myself rehashing and self-flagellating. Why is it that self-forgiveness is the most difficult to achieve?
This incident has shown me more of the unflattering mirror. Parts of myself that I wished to remain hidden. I realised that I want people to think well of me, to admire me, to think I have it all together. When I stuff it up in such a massive way that all comes crashing down and I eye the broken pieces with defeat.
I believe that books come along at the perfect time for when you are ready to uncover something on your journey. I picked up Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown last night and tears slid down my face. I have a ways to go with fully accepting myself and being true to all of me – particularly the parts that I feel others might not like so much. This week has opened me up brutally, and I feel raw and battered by it all.
At the very least it has opened up some great conversations with the kids about mistakes – about owning them and doing whatever you can to make it right.
Realistically I know that I will make many more mistakes in my life. I will experience great loss and sadness, heartache and regret. Living through it, however, is something else. I’m trying to be present to the pain, not shrugging it off or numbing it with alcohol. Sometimes, though, that is easier said than done.
In the meantime, I’ll keep picking myself up, facing the lessons and hope that things get better. I’m not sure if I have any other options.