Here I go again, writing about half-baked, half-thought-out, half-digested thoughts. Really, I don’t know why you people keep coming back.
Recently I experienced the convergence of two separate ideas. These ideas were like a puzzle. I knew they went together, and I knew they held something valuable for me when put together correctly, but I couldn’t figure out how to put them together.
The first, I encountered about six months ago. We’re a book-ish family. We read books at home, we read books in bed, we read books in the bathtub, we read books on vacation. We read books together, we read books separately, we read books under the covers at night. And what do we do when we can’t read the books? We listen to them!
Sometime in January we were listening together to Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, the true story of an 18th century nautical and mathematical genius. In the story, Nat, the main character, snaps at Elizabeth, a child, when she asks what he thinks is a stupid question. Elizabeth is sympathetic, though, and she says:
“I know. I’m just like a chair you stumble over in the dark. It isn’t the chair’s fault, but you kick it anyhow….Your brain. It’s too fast. So you stumble on other people’s dumbness. And–you want to kick something…But you shouldn’t, because even if people are dumb, they aren’t chairs, are they? They do have feelings.”
This little quote struck me at the time as a profound analogy for……something. I wasn’t quite sure what. So I tucked it into the recesses of my mind and carried it around with me for months. Every so often, I’d take it out to look at again and ponder, but it always got put back on the shelf.
Enter, analogy number two….
About three months ago a friend of mine told me of this analogy that she uses in her counseling:
“Let’s imagine that you’re a couch,” she says. “Someone walks through the room and bumps into you. This makes them angry and so you apologize and move yourself to the other side of the room. The next time they walk through the room, they bump into you again. So you move again.
“How ridiculous that we would keep moving our couch when people bump into us! Perhaps if we keep our couch in one place, people would learn where our couch begins and ends and start walking around us.”
When my friend told me this, I immediately recalled the quote from Mr. Bowditch. I knew that this thing, was like this other thing and that they were supposed to go together. But I could not see how they related–other than the common theme of bumping into furniture.
But as I talked through some recent stress with my friend, I began to mesh the two. And they began to make sense. And I began to recognize how they are going to be important to healing, not just my present and my future, but also my past.
I have long accepted the blame for anything that is wrong. If someone is angry, it’s my fault. If someone tells me I’m wrong, I must be wrong. If someone is hurt, it’s my fault. If something gets broken/stolen/lost/otherwise mishandled, it’s my fault. Let me be clear this wasn’t a cognitive process. I did not walk myself through the logic of why things were my fault and thus convince myself that it was my fault. No, this has been an instinctive part of me, as much ingrained in me as the way I laugh or yawn or walk. I don’t think about it. It’s just what happens. Can I give you a for-instance to help clarify what this looks like for me?
Last summer, I was watering the garden. My elderly neighbor came out of her house and called to me. I said hello and went on watering. She came to the fence and began yelling at me (yes, truly yelling at me) that it was not “my day” to be watering, that I should be more aware of the watering restrictions, and basically that the entire city was going to die of thirst because I was watering my garden.
As it happens, I had read the watering restriction notice the day before and was quite familiar with it. And I was well within the limits to be watering when I was. But even though I knew this, had just read it in fact, I still assumed I was wrong. I thought I surely must have misunderstood something, or misread it, and I went back to read it again. I placed a greater value on the ranting of an 85-year-old neighbor than on my own understanding. I took the blame.
And this was when I began to recognize this part of myself that I never knew was there. I began to trace events from the past where I’ve accepted blame that I didn’t deserve. And I began to realize that I have carried around a huge burden of unrighteous shame and guilt.
Like the chair (or the couch) that gets tripped over and then kicked in anger, I have meekly accepted the abuse and simply moved out of the way. Staying unnoticed and out of the way has been the surest way to stay safe, so that’s what I’ve done.
But as Elizabeth points out, it’s not the chair’s fault and the mantra “It’s not my fault” is slowly taking root in my spirit. Friends, it’s like rubbing healing salve into the stripes from the whip of illegitimate shame. It’s not my fault that you did not see me in your path and tripped over me. It’s not my fault that you were not paying attention and stubbed your toe on me.
I am this couch, and I have a delineated shape and I take up space. I expect some people will think I take up too much space, and they will keep stubbing their toes and kicking me hoping that I’ll get out of the way. But eventually, they’ll learn to walk around me. Others will, I hope, find assurance in my constancy and comfort in my design. Those friends are invited to sit down and share this space with me.
But the common purpose in both instances, is to drink deeply from the well of It’s-Not-My-Fault, and find confidence in the boundaries of my created shape.