My friend, Becky, says she told her kids today about the embarrassing things that happened to her when she was a kid. I read her humorous description and jokingly rebuked her for giving them ideas. Without question, from my perspective, most of the embarrassing moments in which I have found myself entangled in the past were webs of my own weaving. As I thought about what her conversation might have entailed (she did give a hint or two), my mind was flooded by my own jumbled memories of childhood. Any of you who regularly read my run-on, rambling writings know, I have shared quite a few of my early memories in the course of the last few months, but there are some stories which should probably be left in the dust-bins of the past, lids tightly affixed, to insure that the embarrassment does not once more overwhelm.
And, although I’m sure that some of you would prefer that a revealing look at my socially backwards past be forthcoming, for tonight, suffice it to say that there is enough material for a very long series of articles. We’ll leave all of that material intact, so if you had expectations of a tantalizing expose’ of what makes Paul tick, you may want to go back to work for the duration, since that probably won’t be in the offing. At this juncture, I also should admit that I’m not much of a believer in repressed memories. My clear recall of so many disturbing events must be the proof against such fanciful theories. Surely there can’t be any other, more humiliating memories still to be recalled in future moments of emotional distress or flashes of epiphany. So, the storehouse of historical material is propitiously, for the reader at least, limited in volume.
What I am deliberating tonight is the way in which these events shape who we become, or more precisely, who we are becoming. As I contemplated the profusion of samples of mortification in my history, I realize that each of them still impacts me in a very real way. Most of them are filed away, thankfully for me, in the “what not to do to your kids, grand-kids, or friends” category. There are others which fall under the category of “stupid is as stupid does”. I’m guessing there are also one or two which might fall under the “I’m still a little bitter about this” heading, but I am grateful that, as my life experiences catch up to those of the adults who were involved so many years ago, I understand them and their actions so much better. I’m still a little mad, but just a little sympathetic too. My guess is that I’ve participated as an “embarrasser” on occasion, too.
I know folks for whom the embarrassing moments were overwhelming, progressively causing character changes which ensured even more embarrassing moments. Eventually, introverted, painfully shy, and withdrawn from social contact, although many of these people are incredibly gifted, they live out their lives privately, the boundaries drawn ever closer to guarantee that they will never be abashed publicly again. For some, a growing number it seems, one particularly embarrassing moment can be the proverbial “straw” which overloads the already demoralized emotional system, leading to a catastrophic event, like suicide or even murder-suicide. In these cases, the results are devastating to those left behind to deal with the chaos. The sorrow (and anger) I feel when lives are ended for incredibly stupid reasons is beyond what I can put into words. Suffice it to say that each one of us who has lived through these humiliations and recovered, owes a debt of support and love to those within our influence who suffer the same stress and confusion. Look for them; Seek them out. They will almost certainly not seek you out, but they’re in front of us on a daily basis. One life repaired may mean hundreds, even thousands salvaged later. Is that an exaggeration? I don’t think so. History is rife with examples of “failures” who rose from the ashes of public humiliation, only to overcome and surmount their circumstances, influencing untold numbers of individuals in the process.
Whew! What is it about supposedly light-hearted subjects that makes them so rebellious? I started writing this with the intention of having you rolling on the floor by this point, only to realize that embarrassment isn’t quite as funny as we’ve been led to believe. By now, I’ve figured out how to laugh at my own and put it in perspective, and I think that’s the correct personal response, but I suggest that we treat our fellow human beings’ mortifying moments with a little more class and a lot more respect.
Okay, since you suffered through the entire monologue with me, one piece of embarrassing ammo for you to use against me…When I was in second grade, I awaited the opening of Christmas presents at the class party with incredible impatience because there was an extra present, beautifully wrapped, under the tree with my name on it. The eyes of the entire class were upon me expectantly, as I unwrapped the package. What beautiful gift awaited me? Was it the ubiquitous book of Life-savers or maybe a new volume of the “Land of Oz” series (I loved reading)? Imagine my chagrin when there was nothing in the package but all my trash, taken from my messy desk while I wasn’t around and wrapped in a stunning package, I’m guessing as a moral lesson against the dangers of slovenliness. I still don’t know whose idea it was, but it sits in my mental file today, a lifelong reminder of how negative lessons seldom yield the result we expect. Well, as I’ve admitted before, all you have to do is look at my desk today to realize that.
“Humility is the only certain defense against humiliation.”