Saturday, June 10, 2017

thinking out loud


It’s easy to forgive yourself when you have the resources to repair the damage you’ve done. For instance, a wife can forgive herself for burning the dinner when she can go to the refrigerator and get something else to take the place of the burned dish. But if she’s in a circumstance where there’s nothing in the refrigerator, in other words she burned the only food she had for dinner, then it’s much harder for her to forgive herself.

Of course I’m talking about my own circumstances as a child. I have looked back at my youth and wondered why my mother didn’t do more to teach me to cook. One reason was that she couldn’t take a chance on my ruining whatever she had planned for supper. There was one plan, and without that one, there was no supper. Though she worked all day in a shirt factory and was obviously tired at suppertime, she invariably cooked the meal. My sister and I had the task of washing and drying the dishes, and I’m sorry to say we sometimes watched television instead of doing our task. I still regret that our mother sometimes awoke to a dirty kitchen to start breakfast.

It wasn’t only the limited resources for food that had an impact on our ability to forgive ourselves. With respect to farming, my father bought seed and fertilizer in the spring but could only afford to buy what he used to plant the crop. This meant that if my older brother, who helped with the farming, made a mistake that caused the loss of seed or fertilizer, there was no money to replace what had been lost. That is to say, the loss was permanent. It was a burden he had to bear. This situation made it hard for him to forgive himself. It was made even harder because of my father’s anger and disappointment. Obviously my father would have been less angry and less disappointed if he could have returned to the seed store and bought more.

This aspect of my upbringing is one reason I find it hard to accept my own failures. My husband angrily corrects me when I say something like, “I’m so stupid!” But when I make a mistake, it towers over me, as if something has been lost forever. 

Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I think financial hardship makes people unforgiving of themselves. This leads to an effort to be perfect, to never make a mistake. And it can spread into our expectations of other people. I set a high bar for myself. Not only for myself, but for others. This is something I've had to try to control. 
Farm house where I grew up.

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