The other day, out of nowhere, I was ambushed by the memory of an event in my life where I really “missed it”. For twenty minutes I again raked myself over the coals for having been so stupid, so immature, so totally clue-less. “What was I thinking!?” The same embarrassment, the same sinking feeling in my stomach – and this for something that happened more than 15 years ago.
I suppose anyone with even the slightest capacity for self-reflection is able to recall episodes in life that, if we could, we would gladly revisit and do over again, differently. Off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen such instances. (Strange; among that number is the memory I mentioned above, but now without the emotion. Memories are like glasses of wine to me: sometimes I can drink a trayful without much effect; sometimes just the one will send me into a whirl.)
I’m generally pretty good at making the effort to put things right….eventually. Not long ago I wrote a couple of emails to individuals I treated badly, in different instances, 2 and 3 years ago. One replied immediately and graciously. The other not at all. But now my conscience, at least, is clear about it.
Many years ago I visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in Portland. Purchasing a ticket at the door, I received in change more money than I had handed over in the first place. “Their mistake,” I thought, as I quietly pocketed the windfall. But it ate at me. For weeks. Until finally I sat down, wrote them a letter of apology, and enclosed the balance of overpayment. What a relief!
Some things I can’t make right. Too late. Once, when I was a poor college student, I wrote a short letter of thanks to an elderly woman who was a family friend and had sent me a small birthday present. As I composed my letter, I told my room-mate, “I’ll betcha if I mention to her that I’m using my last stamp to send this letter, she’ll send me more stamps.” I did, and she did. But then she died before my sense of guilt at manipulating her could grow strong enough for me to do something about it. It’s on my “to do when I get to heaven” list.
Other things are just too delicate to try and make right. Like when I barely managed, by haywire and duct-tape, to repair the back-yard gate: I hoped the fix would hold and I knew if I messed with it again, tried to make it better, it would all come to pieces. Sometimes we know we’ve messed up in relationships, but to bring it up again would be needlessly injurious to others; there’s an unspoken contract with those we’ve hurt to all silently move on. A pretty unsightly situation, but what can we do?
Similarly, there are times when everyone involved has messed up, and we all know it. As long as we can all agree, “I was an asshole, you were an asshole; we were all assholes,” it seems we can get on with life again. (I’m paraphrasing the Book of Common Prayer: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness…”)
As a rule I try to make as much effort to put things right as I would hope another would do for me when I’m the one who has been hard done by. Kind of the “golden rule” formula. To what lengths would I expect them to go in putting something right with me? Am I willing to make the same effort for them? But as I say, sometimes it takes a while (years?) for me to realize my failings.
It seems my spirit is not a very accurate timepiece, but is a fairly good barometer of a shift in the weather.