Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Core Curriculum

Usually, unless I'm being pushed and pulled by the vagaries of depression, I do try to be a better version of myself. I can't change who I am. Nor would I want to. But the aspects of my person that I like, those I would choose to polish to a high gloss, and the ones I could do without, well, if I could kick them under the bed where they'd gather dust and stay harmlessly out of everyone's way, why wouldn't I do that?

Last week I discovered something ugly about myself, or, if not ugly, at least in need of some attention, as skin chapped by winter air.

I was delivering dinner to a family in need. A good deed with which I can't take issue. But as I stood at the front door to the family's home, having just passed over the meal to a teenager, I realized that I was waiting. For a thank you, for some acknowledgment of what I'd done, for a verbal equivalent of a pat on the back.

No expression of gratitude arrived. Why not? The dog was barking, frantic to be let out, the children's faces appeared drawn and their expressions stressed. I turned to walk to my car. The truth, I recognized as I drove home, is that this family has far more pressing business than thanking me for my tiny gesture, which would fill bellies for one evening, and perhaps not even that, given how hungry growing humans can be. I felt shame.

I want to do better. I seek the status of the anonymous donor, the person who's managed to take himself or herself wholly out of the act of giving. 

Each day I try to take one more step on the long path to adulthood. I'm aware that some never make it all the way to the end of that particular path, which if it were located at a ski area would certainly be the black diamond slope. But that doesn't mean that I, or you, shouldn't try.

I stumbled. But instead of looking for sympathy in others' arms, I am dusting myself off and plodding on towards that better version of myself. She's beckoning.

I tell the first- and second-graders with whom I work that we never stop making mistakes, yes, even those of us who to them are impossibly old. They frown as if they don't believe me, and also as if the notion of learning something new every single day seems downright exhausting.

But it's a process, making a life, or not just making it but making it worthy of itself, and I expect to be making mistakes at seventy-two or eighty-six years old. Still, on the last day of my life, whenever that is, maybe I will finally shake hands with my best self. I'd really like to meet her. 


InTheFastLane said...

We never stop growing as long as we are paying attention and try to do better.

It is funny, the "thank yous?" One of the things I need to get better at is letting people know when I am thinking of them. Some friends/relative of mine have started doing this by group text and it bugs the crap out of me because it is like they want everyone to notice that they are giving someone a complement.... So, one of my growth goals for this year, is to go back to old fashioned letter/note writing. It just feels better. No thank you required, just a stamp.

Mary Gilmour said...

I'll let you know about 72 yr old mistakes in a few months but can tell you now that 71 makes them quite frequently and is not, alas, anywhere near a perfected self..
On the' 'thank you' from the family pointx, however, I wonder if it really was 'gratitude to Lady Bountiful' that you were missing. We all want and need connection ... validation?... can't find the exact word I need. You were concerned for this family, obviously, and needed, as we all do, to see a bit into the stranger's face and heart. It is always a little like falling into a dark hole to get no response.
I think you are one of the most sensitive and giving people I know of and to moss that bit of connection is hurtful to you.

Mary Gilmour said...



I hate typing on the iPad.

alejna said...

I love this. I hate making mistakes, but I try my best to own them when I make them. Especially in front of my children. (Because I do make plenty of mistakes.)

De said...

When people are forgiving and compassionate toward others, it's really easy for me to overlook their warts. Those for whom I have little understanding are the ones who judge and judge and judge, but never once seem to consider compensating for their own faults.

Liz said...

"But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Matthew 6:3). I am one of those 'cake and eat it' well-meaning lefties who doesn't believe in God but who has drawn much inspiration and guidance from Jesus' teachings, and for me this is one of the most profound and challenging passages. It is one I reflect on often in both my personal and working lives (as a professional 'do gooder', I think a pretty ruthless examination of your motivations is crucial...and of course, often disappointing). There have been so many times in both contexts when I've had to dust myself off and resolve to do better next time. I've even developed a little mantra that I use at work sometimes: "this is not about me, this is not about me"!! But I think it's OK to treasure the gestures of thanks that you DO receive (they're just so buoying, and it's what the 'thanker' wants, after all!) and to learn to receive them with grace, in the spirit in which they're intended (also not easy at times, as your last post indicated!!). And another hard part? Being as forgiving of ourselves as we would be of others in the struggle to be our best selves.

Christine said...

Be as kind to yourself as you are to others, Sarah. You are extremely generous and kind, it is ok to "slip up." It is also ok to expect a little bit of thanks. That's not messing up or failing. It is being human. You let it go, and push forward, doing better, examining yourself, and, ultimately, also loving yourself.

Froth Pen said...

Perhaps you just expected a thank you because 'thank yous' are deeply ingrained into our social consciousness, not because you are needy or not humble. Unless you shoved a foot in front of the door and refused to leave until you got accolades, I don't think you should feel badly about this. At all. You are good.