This week, I’ve been self-reflecting. Usually, that sort of thing comes with a kind of fierceness, a mental violence I perpetrate on myself over past mistakes, missed opportunities, and the like. I simultaneously recognize my failings, and blame myself for having them.
It’s not a productive way to go about it, but it’s all I’ve known for the better part of my life.
Better part of my life. Now that’s an ironic statement, if ever there was one.
The reason I say “usually”, is because this time, my reflection comes without the usual self-flogging. It comes, because I have had a death in the family; my husband’s step-dad and a very dear man whom I have also known for the better part of my life. He joins my husband’s mother, who died about two years ago, sadly, and far too soon.
Being faced with death tends to make me look at my own ending in this world with a razor focus. I ponder on the things people might say about me, how I might be remembered. Betty’s death brought waves of uncontrollable grief for a very long time–she was as much a mother to me as she was my husband’s. But, eventually, I began to see her ending as the way of all deaths. Inevitable.
No matter how wondrous one’s soul, no matter how special one’s presence on this planet, eventually our time here ends. I don’t mean the statement as dark, or fatalistic. It simply is the way of things.
Which brings me full circle, back to the topic of self-reflection.
As I get older, I have a lot more life to look back on. Many more chances to regret, and to do double-damage-points for not only having things to regret, but also feeling guilty for feeling regretful!
But regret and guilt are time sinks. I know there are plenty of adages out there that apply here to “look only forward” “you can’t plan your future if you’re living in the past”, and all those empty words that make great memes but fly through a Facebook timeline as fast as they go in one ear and out the other while actual people are trying to get through actual difficult times in actual life.
But I do get it, finally. I have precious few moments to get where I’m trying to go, and every time I stop and flog myself, it breaks my momentum. It steals those valuable emotional resources I need to propel myself.
I’m pretty sure Dwain wouldn’t mind that his death has, among other things, given me pause to check my navigation. But I’m absolutely sure he wouldn’t want me to use it as new, inventive way to self-punish. Dwain would want me to be gentler to myself. Kinder. I need to start talking to myself the way I talk to other people.
The way Dwain talked to me.
Betty once called me outrageous. We had been wise-cracking, and I said something funny and off-the-cuff, and she laughed, and looked at me with warm, happy eyes, and said, “Jackie, you are outrageous.”
It set me back at the time. To me, “outrageous” was this terrible insult. It was one of those words that described the parts of me I’ve always tried very hard to suffocate. My artsy-fartsy traits. My penchant for “head in the clouds” and wearing jammie pants to go grocery shopping, and raising my Millennials with birthday parties where everybody got a prize just for playing games and there was no “winning”. As a kid, I was weird and hugged trees (literally) and wrote stories with happy endings, and loved shoes with strange colors I never saw anyone else wear–without realizing no one else wore them because they thought they were ugly.
I was not appreciated for my weirdness. I was mocked. Relentlessly teased. Violently bullied.
And so, when Betty, a woman I enduringly admired, looked at me with such a light in her eyes, and called me outrageous, I was shocked. I just tucked the moment away behind a little door in my soul, and left it there, puzzled and a little sad.
It has taken me all this time to realize she wasn’t teasing me. She was loving me. That was the expression on her face at the time, but I didn’t recognize it. I didn’t know she could think I’m outrageous, and at the same time, love me for it.
I honestly didn’t know.
That’s another lesson I can add to all the things I’ve learned from Betty.
Maybe it’s time I learn to start loving myself they way I love other people.
The way Betty loved me.