For me, this question has burned for years. One to which I want fast and easy answers, though none are to be found.
I notice I want to just flip a switch … and the switch cannot be flipped. I honestly want to begin to love myself more, but perhaps this is a slow process of natural reclamation. Like renovating a very big, complicated Victorian house with a LOT of rooms that need replastering.
And so I go about my redemption slowly, one piece at a time. Right now I’m dealing with shame; I have a lot of it. I’m ashamed for every time I snapped at someone. I’m ashamed of everything I ever did that made someone mad. The list seems endless.
But my shame is slippery and hides under rugs and behind walls. I scarcely sense it is there … until some memory comes swimming up to the surface and sears itself into my brain.
I think about an angry coming of age novel I published in my twenties, that included some unkind descriptions of actual people. It was the kind of unthinking, brash thing you do when you’re determined to make your mark at any cost. People read these words and people were hurt. And I wrote them, ironically — even though I myself was ridiculed and bullied endlessly through grade school.
Even though the last thing I want to do is hurt or humiliate another person publically.
Now, thirty years later, I want to go right back into the rotisserie to baste in more remorse. I want to shame myself as I have always shamed myself … carrying my guilt like a heavy leaden weight. Because … well … I’m defective. But don’t tell anyone, OK?
This is the shame that lurks behind my smiling, confident self you see in the pictures. And I suspect on some level it is shame many of us share, which is not to say it’s right or wrong. Our shame simply is, and so it guides us like a rudder through life, pushing us forward on some river of our own determination.
Will we make things easy or hard for ourself? Abundant or meager? Will we stew silently in our invisible cages of suffering – the ones we have crafted to keep the world at bay?
Because here is the truth about shame … it’s a powerful place to hide. As long as I am ashamed of who I am, truly making a contribution and using my talents up to serve others simply will not happen.
Or at least not as fully as it could happen. So right now, I’m under repair, and I feel like I’m making so progress.
Here’s the divine joke to all of this. When I wrote that novel all those years ago, I was motivated by a base desire to become “a star”. I honestly thought it was going to make me famous, which now seems plain old naive. And completely beside the point.
I thought by becoming a young literary star, I would somehow spruce up these damaged goods. Then I would be acceptable – loved, perhaps, even by those who had rejected me. Steadfastly I ignored my reviews. I couldn’t look, because what if the critics didn’t adore me? My plan would be ruined!
Instead I threw myself into promoting the book, and even managed to get it written up in a few high profile magazines. This was really going to ‘make’ me, I thought.
I had wild imaginings. Parades in my honor! Invitations to speak to thousands! And of course, a spot on Oprah’s couch. But at the end of the day, Random House shredded 4000 unsold copies of the 7500 they had printed, and my book was declared a dud.
So my novel disappeared, leaving behind a trail of shame, disappointment, and the periodically wagging finger in my mind that has persisted to this day.
The good news is that all these years later, redemption is in sight. I now understand that I am not the results I achieve. I also understand that I’m not perfect and I don’t need to be. Nor do I need others to stamp me with their seal of approval.
Most importantly, I am starting to accept the fact that I make mistakes. If I pay attention, I can actually allow myself to grow from them.
Being a star now feels like a childish dream. And every day my entire being wants to focus more and more on what is here now … in this moment. What is asking to be shared? Created? Loved? Noticed and appreciated?
And who am I being asked to be? Right here … and right now. For I have begun to listen closely.
I have a new prayer which I picked up from the wonderful film, Raw Faith. In it, a minister says her daily prayer to God: “What’s next? I’m available.” It is in this simple question that I can find my way back to true peace and joy. Feeling my way along the braille trail I go, straight back towards my redemption.
As I do I forgive myself just a little bit more. For finally, in God’s love and understanding, can I find my own worthy self.
And you know what? She’s not so bad at all.