Monday, September 9, 2013

Letting Go of Guilt

It gnawed at my insides all day.

How could I?

When he turned his head, I swiped it from its sunken resting place.
Maybe it was its knifelike point--freshly whittled in a hand-cranked sharpener.

I had to have it.
That damn yellow Ticonderoga.
Wrote the smoothest without any squeaks.  Perfectly looped letters to boot.
Leaving no errant legacy with its dustless pink eraser.

I'm sorry Francesco Pignatelli*(not his real name).  It was nothing personal.

Once the screen was slid upward, small trespasses of untamed light streamed through the confessional's tiny metal apertures.

"Yes, my child."

Blank darkness.  A shut door.  Anonymity on its knees.

"Bless me father  for this is my first confession."

A crisp sign of the cross and a well-rehearsed response.

"So, my child, what are your sins?"


Words dislodged like a deeply-rooted splinter:  the unexpected brew of sweet relief and stinging pain.

"Anything else?"

Silence.  The mental Super-8 of my seven-year-old transgressions could not unfold fast enough. Frozen hesitation.


"You are absolved."

Ten Hail Marys.  One sharpened Ticonderoga. A mountain of guilt.

Lessons in forgiveness spring forth from some of the most unforgiving places.

As a Catholic School girl in the 1970s, I somehow thrived in what seemed like an unforgiving environment.

Back then, you didn't dare skulk into mass five minutes late unless you wanted to be called out on it. Didn't matter if your parents circled the block seventeen times for a parking spot in a torrential downpour until they could finally back in the Buick Skylark in an illegal parking spot.  Lateness was a sin often met with an icy reception once you slipped into church: an abrupt suspension of Alleluias and the whipped necks of its celebrants. Guilty.

Back then, you needed to sell five million chocolate crisp bars or risk the guilt-laced letter about your lackluster fundraising efforts. There were no "don't sell candy to strangers" speeches, but the understood directive that your cardboard box should not be returned with any unwanted bars. My dear uncle--and his insatiable sweet tooth--helped me out with this one.  Picking me up from school one afternoon, he asked what I was carrying in the box with the floppy cardboard handles:

"What do you got in that box?"


"How many bars?"



An evasion of guilt.  With and without almonds.

For years, I didn't know any other skin but the guilt that encased my bones.  It draped around the muscularity of my innermost intentions--and certainly cast the questionable ones to their rightful places.

Spun from divergent strands of my upbringing, guilt still stitches an uneven trim around the fringes of my existence--in all of its colorful variations.

(That "mom guilt" strand is the glittery show-off of the bunch, if you must know.)

For all its psyche-breaking bulk, guilt serves as the essentially brazen reminder to keep us in check and remind us about the integrity of the choices we make.  And those we don't.

But to what extent does it hit our happiness behind the knees with an aluminum bat?

Continuing to dwell in that cesspool of "what-if" "how" and "why" only fosters the toxic broth of regret and shame.

Ultimately, all of that guilt gets uncomfortably stuffed in our most confined spaces--dominating who we are and crippling our next steps.

Doesn't it always seem that those who live in a perpetual state of guilt and regret are the ones who seem to attract more of the same?

Decades after my Ticonderoga heist, I have slowly come to terms with the management of guilt.

Guess what?  None of us is perfect.  We have all made mistakes--both egregious and slight.

While it is important to acknowledge and make amends for our missteps, it is equally important to release the guilt along with it.

And to forgive ourselves--even when the world around you remains unforgiving.

"Should" will never be "is."
"Should" will swallow you like quicksand.
Jimmy Choo Crown Glittered
Peep-Toe Platform Pump. Perfection!
"Should" will never lead you to where you want to be.

I am sorry for all those Ticonderoga moments.
But it's time.

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