Shame, for me, shows up in the least expected places, when I’m paying little attention.
I was picking up a cake for my son, Ian’s, birthday party. I’d looked over my to-do list and was checking everything off, relieved that all the errands had been completed. I’d dealt with busy stores and Sunday afternoon traffic, and made it through with a positive attitude.
And then it happened. As I was high fiving myself for a job well done, as I was leaving the parking lot. Traffic had slowed and she must’ve thought I saw her and walked on ahead. But I didn’t see her and I inched closer, seeing her at the last second before we collided. I slammed on the breaks as she mouthed something. My knee-jerk response, which I yelled at the windshield, was “I didn’t see you, Geez Louise!” Yes, I actually said Geez Louise. My response is not always that G-rated.
She glared at me in what I assumed to be frustration and disgust and walked past my car clutching her infant car seat close to her. The whole thing was over in 5 seconds.
My frustration lingered. I was in a good mood and now this entitled lady ruined it. I blamed her for walking when my car was obviously still moving. And then my emotions turned to shame as I remembered pedestrians always have the right of way. What if I had hit her? She was holding a baby! I’ve been that person crossing the parking lot before, and been just as frustrated when someone driving didn’t see me.
I know this is a small moment. But it seems my life is made up of lots of unsaid small moments that if not addressed, if not let out, they can consume me and make me feel like a failure.
Even in the small moments, I try to ask myself things like, when I’m squeezed—when the stress is on, or something happens that’s frustrating—how do I respond? I want it to always be with grace and truth and goodness, but this time it wasn’t. In many tiny, almost invisible moments, good stuff doesn’t come out.
I started to beat myself up for being a jerk and trying to justify myself. I’ve been on both sides of this same situation more times than I can count. And no matter my position—as the driver or pedestrian—I feel as though I’m right, or that I want to justify and defend why I’m right—and why the other person is wrong.
And then I mentally started to prepare for next time. In case this ever happened again, what’s a better response. I decide that I’d roll down my window and apologize for getting frustrated and admit I was lost in my own thoughts and not paying attention. But as I daydream more about this possible scenario, I recognized that I want something out of the situation. I want a smile, a nod, or to be told it’s ok.
I think about my self first, almost all the time. I know as a wife and a mom, this is the wrong answer. I know I should be telling you all the ways I put so many people before myself. But I don’t think that’s actually the truth. Much of my life is spent trying to shine the light on myself just right to project the best possible angle to the world. I want you to see the good in me. The gross sludge that comes out when I’m squeezed? That’s the stuff I want to hide.
So here’s what I made of this moment. I knew could sit in the shame, or I could learn from it and move forward. I parked my car and took some deep breaths, praying for truth and peace to come into my broken spots of shame and selfishness.
More and more I’m seeing I can be a slave to the hidden darkness in my life that I think I deserve. There are small moments, like this one, but also bigger ones that can leave a lingering impact for a long time.
That day I learned how I handle shame. And next time, in a similar situation, I want to do better. But if I don’t, if I make the same mistake or say something other than Geez Louise, I want to offer myself forgiveness and understanding. Then maybe, in doing that, I can be a little more ok with letting the world see the real me.